Chapter Forty-eight: The Mad King

            Kah’len’s three battalions rode at an easy cantor until they came to about several sepeks from the King’s camp. It was late in the day, so Kah’len allowed his soldiers to make camp with no campfires. Taitah the moon was overhead, bloated and affording plenty of light to work by. Kah’len sat down crosslegged before the small tent he would sleep in. He ate his cold rations and drank water from a bladder; the water was tepid and tasted of leather. Around him, soldiers murmured softly in groups of twos and threes. Below the rise in the land, the vast camp belonging to King Roseir Ys’teis sprawled east.

            Kah’len set guards along their camp periphery and crawled in the tent for some sleep. Sleep was a long time in coming as the army settled around him. Kah’len lay on his back, in full leather armor, blinking at the darkness within the tent. He thought of Lahn and his groin tightened. With a sigh, he closed his eyes. The young man was like a drug to him. A drug he needed in order to breathe and exist. Eventually, he fell into a light doze in which bright images of Castle Draemin intertwined with dreams of Lahn and children he did not recognize. When he was aroused in the pre-dawn hours, he sighed wearily and crawled out of his tent. Two soldiers broke his tent down while he sipped water from a bladder.

            He took his report from the night watch.

            A young soldier saluted him and approached. “The King’s camp was quiet during the night, my lord. The King’s pavilion is at the fore of the camp, heavily guarded.”

            Kah’len nodded and clasped the young man’s shoulder. “Good job, Ylen. I think we will surprise them this morning by attacking the camp.”

            A sergeant strode up and saluted. “I think we should attack, sir, but surround the camp as well in case a trap has been set for us.”

            Kah’len nodded. “Good, Jered. That makes sense. You take most of the cavalry to surround the camp from the west, north and south. I will take most of the infantry to attack directly.”

            Kah’len mounted his bahil, Lish’tah, and waited until the cavalry mounted up. The infantry would jog the 1 1/2 miles to the King’s camp. The army split up in a fine, highly coordinated dance. Kah’len led the infantry to the King’s camp at a trot, the soldiers on foot jogging. As they approached from the west, the alert went out in the King’s camp and soldiers started scrambling for their armor and weapons. They had grown lax and complacent, Kah’len was happy to see.

            He yelled and spurred his army forth. The infantry brought up a yell that made the hair along Kah’len’s arms stand. He kept his eyes trained on the large pavilion in the distance. It stood surrounded by guards.

            As he watched, the King stepped from inside the pavilion in full gold armor and sword. Kah’len almost brought his mount to heel. His sire looked just this side of death, pale and gaunt and sickly. His eyes burned fiercely in his lean face. He watched as Kah’len rode up while around him armies clashed.

            Their eyes met and the King grinned fiercely.

            “You are here, Warlord!” the King taunted. “Come get me, boy!”

            There was little of sanity in the man’s blazing eyes. Kah’len dismounted and approached the King with his sword unsheathed.

            “Father,” he said, suddenly uncertain.

            The King narrowed his eyes. “How is your whore of a mother, boy?”

            Kah’len’s back stiffened. “You keep her out of this.”

            The King pointed east with his sword. “She’s there, leading the Tjish.unen contingency, ready to take my blood! And you defend her!”

            The King screamed and raised his sword, rushing Kah’len. Kah’len had just enough time to raise his sword to deflect his sire’s weapon as it swept down in an arc. They fought, their swords clanging in the din of battle. The King’s madness made him strong, despite his feeble appearance. The King lunged and Kah’len spun away. They came together again, their swords between them, fairly evenly matched. This close, Kah’len could see the dark circles under the king’s eyes and the broken vessels in the whites of his eyes. The King reeked of old sweat and unwashed body and disease. His breath was sour on Kah’len’s face.

            Kah’len threw him off and raised his sword to attack. The King deflected the downward sweep of Kah’len sword before stepping back.

            “Give up, Father!” Kah’len implored. “You’re sick, sir.”

            The King screeched in rage and attacked once more. The strength of his rage drove Kah’len back. Kah’len tripped on a fallen soldier and fell onto his back.

            The King stood over him, pointing the sword at his heart. “You can never best me, boy. Don’t you know by now?”

            With a laugh that froze Kah’len’s blood in his veins, the King raised his sword over his head. Kah’len saw the sword sweep down in slow motion. Then, before the sword connected with his head, the King stopped. His eyes were unfocused and his body was trembling. The King screamed and dropped his sword, holding on to his head with both hands, he fell onto his knees.

            Kah’len rose and picked up his sword.

            The King screamed again.

            Kah’len unsheathed his dagger.

            The King gazed up at him. “Make the pain stop, boy!” Blood seeped from his eyes and mouth. “Oh, the pain!”

            Kah’len swallowed thickly and came behind the King, neatly slicing his throat. The King fell forward and was still.

            Kah’len sighed and looked around. The battle raged on. He mounted Lish’tah and looked around the chaos.

            “The King is dead!” he yelled.

            The word spread slowly through the melee.  Kah’len’s troops took up the chant of  “the King is dead!  Long live the King!”  It spread like wildfire through the battle.

            “Lay down your arms!”

            Slowly, the King’s army began to drop their weapons on the ground.

            “Find me a horn,” Kah’len said to Sergeant Jered.

            The sergeant saluted and hurried away, returning within minutes with a battered copper horn. He handed the horn to Kah’len.

            Kah’len brought the horn to his lips and blew a long note into the early morning silence. Three other horns answered his own.

            Kah’len looked at the ragtag remainder of the King’s army. “You can join us or you can go free. We must secure the border and bring an end to this war. Will you join me?”

            Most of the soldiers raised their swords and hailed Kah’len, though some refrained and would be allowed to leave the battle.

            Kah’len nodded. “Then those who do not wish to join our army, you may leave the battlefield. If you fight against us, you will forfeit your life.”

            Kah’len looked at Sergeant Jered again. “Find me three messengers, Sergeant. I’ll be in the King’s tent.”

            Sergeant Jered saluted and hurried away, while Kah’len turned Lish’tah around and cantered to the King’s tent. Once there, he dismounted and handed the reins to a nearby guard. Inside the opulent tent, Kah’len could smell the king’s sickness and unwashed body. A young woman lay naked and asleep on the bed. Kah’len turned his eyes away from her supple youth. Servants entered the tent.

            “What about us, my lord,” the head servant asked.

            “You’ll remain with me until I am ready to leave. We still have a peace treaty to sign. Take my sire’s bedclothes and burn them. Burn his clothing. My father was afflicted by an insect that burrowed into his brain.”

            The servants paled and gasped.

            “It shall be done, my lord,” the head servant promised and began to direct the others.

            Kah’len walked to the table crammed with wine stained maps. One large map of the border between the Torahns stood unfurled. A decanter of wine stood at each corner. Kah’len looked down on the map and traced the border with a finger.

            The tent flap was pushed open and Sergeant Jered entered, followed by three soldiers.

            “I’ve brought the messengers, my lord,” the Sergeant said.

            Kah’len nodded. “Then here is my message: the King of North Torahn is dead. Warlord Kah’len Tjashensi is victorious. He calls for each nation to come to the old king’s camp at sundown for a truce. Until then, all fighting is to cease.”

            He made each messenger repeat his words. Once satisfied, he walked them outside, where they mounted their swift bahils and galloped in three directions.

            Kah’len turned to Sergeant Jered. “Have those who once served the King conscripted into our army. The border has to be fortified when we leave.”

            “I will do so, Warlord!” Sergeant Jered stated and saluted before striding away.

            Kah’len sent a fourth messenger to Aud’s camp to bring Commander Aud and the Oracle for the upcoming conference with the leaders of the other armies. He sat at his father’s conference table and watched as the servants stripped the king’s bed of its bedclothes and hauled them outside to be burned. He watched as they hauled the King’s clothes chests out into the bonfire. Incense was burned to cleanse the air of the smell of sickness and unwashed body. The tent flap was clipped open to allow for fresh air into the tent.

            Kah’len soon found himself pacing as he waited for responses. The first response to arrive came from the Tjish.unen army, led by Lady Oona, his mother. He read her missive with a smile.

            “Oh my child! Goddess bless you and keep you!

             I will come as the Queen’s representative to make a peace accord between us.

             I will come at sunset.

             Yours,

             Oona Thalmar.“

            Soon, the other responses came from the R’Nonayan army and the Red Army of South Torahn.

            Kah’len had the King’s tent rearranged, setting the large rectangular conference table in the middle of the pavilion, organizing several chairs around the table. He had the servants hang a curtain around the large bed in one corner and around the bathing area nearby. He ordered a feast to be cooked for the visiting dignitaries.

            At sunset, people began arriving. Oona Thalmar arrived with a contingency of Tjish.unen soldiers. Prince Nhove Obeli, heir of the Red Throne, arrived with his own escort. For R’Nonay, General Soltas Eskar rode up with a military escort. Kah’len had them led into his pavilion and then turned in time to see Commanders Aud and Daven and Lahn ride up. Finally, two burly Isemi warriors rode up on lirtah. The warriors dismounted and entered the pavilion with barely a flick of a glance at Kah’len.

            Lahn threw himself from his mount and hugged Kah’len. “Goddess preserve me! I was so scared!”

            Kah’len rubbed his back soothingly. “It was a short face off, Lahn. Come inside, all of you.”

            He led his two commanders and his Oracle into the tent.

            Oona Thalmar, Prince Nhove Obeli and General Soltas Eskar bowed when Kah’len entered, leading Lahn by the hand.

            “Lahn!” Nhove Obeli cried and ran to his brother, pulling him into a hug. “Oh, look at you, Lahn!”

            They pulled apart and grinned at each other.

            “You look well, brother,” Nhove murmured. He flicked a glance at Kah’len before looking at his brother. “Marriage agrees with you.”

            Nhove thrust his arm through Lahn’s and led him to the table.

            “These are my commanders, Aud and Daven,” Kah’len told the congregation. “And that is Lahn Tjashensi-Obeli, my spouse, the Oracle of the Goddess, and my personal adviser. Please sit.”

            When everyone sat down, Kah’len had the meal and wine served. He tasted the wine and food first. The telltale burning of poison was absent. The visitors tucked into their meal while Kah’len spoke to them.

            “My father was mad,” Kah’len stated. “He had an insect lodged in his brain, which drove him to madness. He asked me to kill him because the pain had reached a level that was intolerable. But I could not trust him anyway.” Kah’len swallowed thickly, grief seeping into his heart and mind. “Father and I were close once, before he got sick. Now, let us speak of a truce. I must secure my own land, so it is not advantageous for me to make war with my neighbors. I will leave three brigades of soldiers at the border for security purposes, just as it has always been. I believe I have treaties with R’Nonay and Tjish.un, as I wed princesses from both nations. I also married the Red King’s youngest son.”

            The burlier of the two Isemi warriors stood up. “I am Oler Masivo, Tauk-na of the Isemi tribes. This is Estir Sanor, Pauk-an of my people. What is there for us in this treaty?”

            “For the Isemi, I propose extending their territory until Azura.Dha, where the Khaine River empties into the sea,” Kah’len said.

            The Isemi seemed taken aback. They looked at each other then at Kah’len.

            “That is acceptable,” Oler Masivo declared and sat down, reaching for a decanter of wine. He held the decanter up. “I celebrate.”

            There were chuckles and nods as Oler drank his fill of wine.

            “Now, I propose were rework trade agreements and peace treaties,” Kah’len said.

            They settled in for a long, productive night.

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