The journey from Draemin bay to the Southern Border took several weeks by sea. The fleet sailed close to land, because the Raiye’Tah was a stubborn, violent ocean during these months of Haltath and Kamaran. Kah’len was busy during those weeks, holed up in his large cabin with two of his three commanders. He left Commander Maedoc Kalish in command of the two battalions stationed at Draemin City, while he traveled with Commanders Aud Salit’ and Daven Halso. There were lots of plans to make before reaching the border. Even though his days were filled with plans, strategy and company, Kah’len’s nights were long, lonely and mostly sleepless. He would lay on his cot and stare at the ceiling, his mind filled with Lahn, his betrayals and his beauty. Kah’len still wanted him more than he wanted anything, including the rule of Torahn. His hunger for the young Oracle compared to nothing in Kah’len’s life. When he did sleep, Kah’len’s sleep was disturbed by nightmares of Lahn disappearing or dying or leaving him. He was terrified of losing the young man while, at the same time, unsure if he should trust him, should allow him into his heart.
There were times when he was up on deck, talking to the captain, when he could feel Lahn’s eyes on him. He could feel the young man’s gaze as if it were a gentle breeze on his skin. Lahn would stand for hours at the prow, gazing at the dark shape of land in the west or ahead, at the endless expanse of ocean. Sometimes Kah’len caught Lahn gazing at the bright stars overhead. He seemed lonely, sad and isolated, but Kah’len, even if he was moved by the sight of the youth, could not bring himself to approach him. So much crowded into Kah’len’s heart: a strong sense of betrayal, rage that Lahn had gone over him to have his family members murdered, his lust for Lahn which had no equal, and his pity of the young man’s isolated position. There were times Kah’len could not find breathing room within the nest of vipers that were his thoughts. In frustration, he finally turned to Aud and Daven for advice.
He sat at the desk in his cabin, writing a missive for his spies at the front, when Aud and Daven knocked on the cabin door. He finished his missive and poured fine sand to absorb the excess ink and stood to answer the knock.
He grinned at his Commanders. “Come in. I was just writing a letter.”
“How did you sleep, Warlord?” Aud asked as he commandeered Kah’len’s cot to sit on.
“Off and on,” Kah’len answered honestly. “And you?”
“I always sleep like the dead,” Aud growled and laughed when Daven made a sign to avert evil.
“He is irreverent,” Daven said needlessly and shook his head. “I slept well as well. What troubles you, Warlord?”
Kah’len straddled the desk chair and sat down, indicating Daven should sit next to Aud on the large bed.
“I am conflicted,” Kah’len stated.
Aud snorted. “What else is new? All you leaders and such, you are always conflicted. What conflicts you this week?”
Kah’len grimaced. “Not this week only.”
Daven, who was a study of human behaviors, glared at Aud. “Why are you so stupid. Can’t you see the Oracle is what conflicts Kah’len?”
Aud’s eyebrows shot up. He looked at Kah’len. “Is this true? Am I so oblivious?”
Daven snorted and shook his head.
Kah’len chuckled. “You are, Aud.”
Aud crossed his thick arms over his massive chest. “Well, he is a comely youth, if one is so inclined.”
Kah’len sighed. “Unfortunately, I am so inclined.”
“Why are you conflicted? You two are married. Do you not share feelings?” Daven asked.
“No, I believe we do share feelings,” Kah’len said, wondering how much to reveal. “What I am going to say must stay in this room.”
His commanders brought their fists to their chests and bowed.
“Lahn went behind my back and had the old Prei-Serren and the King’s heir put to death. What’s more, he had my half-brother’s wife and older son put to death as well. Then he conscripted the younger children into the Church.”
By the stunned expressions on his Commanders’ faces, Kah’len gauged his reaction to this atrocity had been justified.
“He’s dangerous,” Aud growled.
“He said he was directed by the Goddess,” Kah’len said.
The burly commander shook his head. “What if the Goddess turns on you, Kah’len? Will he quietly do away with you?”
Kah’len imagined such a thing and a cold wave washed over him. He could not reply.
“Why did he go over your head?” Daven, ever judicious, asked.
“He said he did not think I would obey the Goddess,” Kah’len replied.
Daven cocked his head. “And would you have? Obeyed the Goddess, I mean.”
Kah’len swallowed and shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t think I would have.”
Daven nodded seriously. “Then I think he acted well.”
Aud scowled at his friend. “Are you mad?”
Daven gazed calmly at his friend. “Would you want a deity angry with you? Besides, the old Prei-Serren and the heir to the throne would have always been a threat to Kah’len’s rule.”
“What about the woman and the child?” Aud demanded.
Daven shook his head. “Kah’len must learn to make sacrifices and to make difficult decisions. What are two lives to secure a nation? Torahn would have been plunged into another civil war and how many would have perished?”
Aud looked away, gnawing on his lower lip. He looked at Kah’len helplessly. “He might have a point, Warlord. He is a deeper thinker than I. I would make a lousy advisor, but Daven here, he is wise for his age.”
Daven snorted again. Once he sobered, he gazed at Kah’len. “I think the Oracle acted wisely, Warlord. You are hurt right now because he went over your head, but the youth’s actions are sound. Forgive him and bed him. You’ll be less conflicted and happier overall.”
Kah’len took a deep breath and released it. “I forget how young he is. How much responsibility has been placed on his shoulders.”
“He is the Oracle of a living god,” Daven murmured. “That, too, is a great burden and a dual-edged sword. He will have more blood on his hands in the future, as will you. Learn to trust him and lean on him. He did what he did because he is loyal to you.”
Aud nodded and glanced at Kah’len. “I see Daven’s point, Kah’len.”
“Yes, so do I,” Kah’len said and scritched his growing beard with his fingers. “This has greatly eased my mind. I chose you both well.”
Aud blushed. “Well, Daven more so than I, Warlord.”
Kah’len smiled. “You, too, you big lug.”
Kah’len did not get a chance to speak to Lahn that day or the next, as the war plans proceeded in a timely manner and Kah’len rarely left his cabin during his conferences with his commanders.
Near the end of the week, they approached South Torahn, sailing near the coastal city of Dors. They dropped anchor on the small bay near the docks. The southern border was several miles to the north, near City Sena. Kah’len sent a missive to the city governor and to the king of South Torahn. He and the Red King were now related through Kah’len’s marriage to Lahn. He came as an ally.
As he waited for a response from the governor to dock at Dors City, Kah’len went in search of Lahn. He found the young man at the ship’s prow, gazing hungrily at South Torahn.
“You miss your family, Lahn?” Kah’len asked.
Lahn started and turned, face flushed. He swallowed. “Yes. I have not seen them in a very long time.”
Kah’len came to stand beside him, leaning on the railing and gazing at the city behind its towering sprawling walls. He then shifted his gaze north as if he could see the border and the war.
“I have decided to forgive you, Lahn,” he said quietly. “Trusting you will come later. Please give me time to learn to trust you again, but, in the meantime, I would like us to be friends.”
“We are married,” Lahn replied softly. “I would like more than friendship from you, Kah’len Tjashensi.”
Kah’len swallowed thickly. His groin tightened. Goddess above! He wanted that, too. “I want that as well, Lahn. You must know I do.”
Lahn took a step forward. “When?”
Kah’len blushed at the eager hunger in the youth’s eyes. “Soon. I want to include you in my preparations from now on. You are my advisor, just as my commanders are.”
Lahn sighed. “Thank you, Kah’len. I…I’ve been so lonely.”
Kah’len frowned at the mournful tone of the youth’s reply. He put his hands on Lahn’s shoulders and pulled him into a warm hug. Lahn’s arms went around Kah’len’s waist and he took a shuddering breath. Kah’len sighed and pressed a kiss the youth’s temple.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on you, Lahn,” Kah’len stated quietly.
Lahn shook his head. “It’s alright, Warlord. I understand.”
There was a clearing of a throat and Kah’len gently pulled back from the hug, releasing Lahn.
Aud brought his fist to his chest and bowed. “A response has arrive, Warlord.”
Kah’len took the small missive and brought it to the light. The governor welcomed Kah’len and his fleet on behalf of the King. He urged Kah’len to disembark his troops. The governor would be hosting a party for them that evening.
“A party,” Kah’len stated blandly.
Aud snorted. “You are the Warlord come to South Torahn. These events have procedures and regulations and such.”
Kah’len frowned. “We are needed at the border as soon as feasible. We have a journey of some one hundred miles. We are leaving right away.”
“So, we leave tomorrow morning, Warlord,” Aud murmured and walked away, laughing.
Kah’len glared after his friend before turning to Lahn. “What do you think, Oracle?”
“Let me pray on it, Warlord. These diplomatic overtures are things that must be respected. You are now ruler of Draemin City. In your administrative capacity, you must attend events such as this to promote amity between cities.” He grimaced. “But I know you are anxious to confront your sire.”
Kah’len sighed. “I suppose we can leave on the morrow.”
“I will ask Atana’s guidance, but she is fickle, Kah’len.”
Kah’len smiled at the youth. “Do pray on it. We have until tonight to disembark the troops. We’ll camp north of the city.”
That evening, Kah’len washed up as best he could, scraped his beard off, and dressed in his ceremonial uniform, then he and Lahn and his two commanders rode their bahils to the city gates, which had been thrown open to the army of North Torahn. The city guards, dressed in the green and blue of South Torahn, brought fist to his chest and bowed.
“Welcome to Dors City, Warlord of North Torahn!” said the one in charge.
Kah’len refrain from grimacing and saluted back, fist to chest. “Thank you.”
“The governor’s mansion is near the center of town. We’ll send five guards to escort you.”
The city was strangely quiet and dark.
A warning flashed in Kah’len’s mind. “Where are the denizens?”
One of the guards looked back. “We have curfews, Warlord. Until the North King is expelled from the border, we keep the city dark to present less of a target.”
The dark streets twisted away from the boulevard into darker, smaller alleyways. All houses were dark and the eerie silence hung over the city. The clop of their mounts’ hoofs sounded like clarions in the silence. Kah’len felt the back of his neck prickle. This felt wrong somehow. The warning got stronger the further away from the docks they went. He opened his mouth to say something when they turned a corner and came to a house adorned with lights. Hundreds of carriages lined the semi-circular driveway. Laughter and music emanated from the mansion. Kah’len swallowed his relief.
The guards led them to the front door and dismounted their lirtah, creating a semicircle around the front door.
The leader of the guards bowed to Kah’len when he dismounted. “I will care for your bahil, my lord.”
Kah’len handed his reins over and watched the others do the same. He then took Lahn’s hand, and led the young man up the five marble steps to the front door. The large arching doorway stood open. The foyer beyond it was crowded with party goers in their lush fineries. A young servant cleared his throat and announced them over the din.
The foyer fell silent as a tall, older gentleman strode through the throng.
He grinned at Kah’len and bowed. “Welcome to Dors City, Warlord of North Torahn.”
Kah’len let go of Lahn’s hand and clasped the man’s forearm. “You are Governor Soel Gair?”
The man bowed again. “At your command, my lord.”
The man unclasped Kah’len’s forearm and turned to a much younger woman just behind him. “This is Melidi, my second wife.”
The woman blushed and curtsied before Kah’len. “It is an honor and a pleasure, my lord.”
Kah’len took her offered hand and pressed a kiss to her wrist. “The honor is mine, my lady.”
Governor Gair ran his bright gray eyes over Kah’len’s entourage. “And these gentlemen, my lord?”
“Forgive me,” Kah’len murmured. “This is my Prei-Serren and husband, Lahn Obeli, and my commanders, Aud Salit’ and Daven Halso.”
The governor bowed to Lahn. “It is an honor to host a prince of the blood, Excellency. We did not know you had married the Warlord.”
Lahn bowed as well. “I did, my lord. How is father?”
The governor bowed to the commanders before thrusting his arm through Lahn’s. “Come inside. I’ll get you refreshments.”
Governor Gair led Lahn to a sitting room filled with revelers. “Forgive the boisterous nature of our gathering, your Excellency. It has been a long time since we have had a chance to enjoy ourselves. We have lived in dire fear of being invaded for so long.”
“It must be harrowing for you,” Lahn said sympathetically.
“It is hard,” the governor agreed and handed him a glass with an apertif.
Something in Lahn’s body pinged and a sense of danger rose within him. He brought the drink to his lips and he allowed the liquid to touch his lips, where it touched the delicate skin of his lips and throbbed. Inside Lahn, the touch of the Goddess burned with rage. Lahn turned and ran to where Kah’len stood talking to a gentleman. Lahn knocked the drink from Kah’len’s hand as the Warlord brought the glass to his lips.
Kah’len frowned. “Lahn?”
“It’s poisoned,” Lahn stated flatly and threw his glass to the floor.
Nearby, both commanders dropped their glasses.
Kah’len drew himself to his full height. “I demand an explanation.”
The governor sighed. “Oh dear, how tiresome. Arrest them.”
Guards at once surrounded them, spears pointed at them.
Lahn began to shake, his eyes rolling into his head and foam speckling his lips. Kah’len wrapped his arms around the youth.
The governor frowned. “Damn it, arrest them!”
The guards glanced at one another and stepped forward.
“Enough!” Lahn yelled and pulled free. His eyes glowed golden and a fine sheen of light encompassed his slender body.
People gasped and stepped back.
“You dare defy Atana!” Lahn growled and lifted his arms. “Betrayers! Petty little thieves!”
At once the mansion shook as if the Goddess was tearing through the ground itself. People fell over, dropping their drinks and platters of food clattered to the floor. People panicked and started running every which way attempting to escape. Doors closed and bolted.
“You will pay!” Lahn screamed as the foundations of the mansion crumbled and the floor cracked and pushed outward. People fell through cracks in the floor. The chandelier overhead rattled and fell on top of two partygoers.
“Kill him!” the Governor yelled.
Spears were thrown but deflected from the band of light surrounding Lahn. Lahn plucked a spear from the air and hurled it, impaling the governor through his stomach. The man groaned and fainted.
Kah’len knew he had to get to Lahn before he killed any more people.
Around him people panicked and chaos ensued, but no one attempted to stop him as he made his way to Lahn.
“Lahn!” he gasped and stepped through the light that enveloped the Oracle with a pop. At once his ears seemed muffled and a prickly heat surrounded him. The light fizzled along his skin.
He approached the Oracle. “Lahn.”
“He is here, Warlord,” the imperious voice of the Goddess replied.
“Please, Goddess, Mother and Warrior, have mercy!”
“On this crowd that came to witness your poisoning and death?” She demanded.
Kah’len swallowed as he gently put his hands on Lahn’s shoulders and turned him over.
The young man’s eyes were molted gold with no pupils. Gold tears meandered down his cheeks. He was shaking and blood speckled his lips.
“You are killing Lahn,” Kah’len said. “Please, Mother of us all. Have mercy.”
At once, Lahn’s eyes cleared, becoming his beautiful gray color once more. He looked confused and exhausted. “Kah’len?”
He fainted into Kah’len’s arms.
At once the mansion stopped shaking and the doors clicked open. People trampled over each other to escape and poured out into the yard.
Kah’len heard sobbing and saw Lady Gair kneeling beside her husband and stroking the hair from his forehead.
Aud and Daven hurried to his side.
“How is the Oracle?” Aud demanded.
Kah’len tore his eyes from the young woman’s grief. He glanced down at Lahn and saw the rise and fall of his chest. “He seems fine. Let’s leave. Now.”
No one tried to stop them as they made their way outside. Kah’len carried Lahn. He would get answers at some point, but right now he had to get his people to safety.