Chapter Fifty: The Marriage of North and South

            Kah’len lingered at the border waiting for his bride. While he waited for the girl, he organized the army that would remain behind when he left. His days were full of activity and, at night, he made love to Lahn and slept in his warm arms. They would talk for hours on end. Lahn was thirsty for information about Kah’len’s youth, his exploits, his friendships. Kah’len was amused and touched by the young priest. When Lahn was lost in what he was saying, he would move his hands expressively, his eyes large and lively. He looked young and carefree then. Kah’len’s love for the youth grew in leaps and bounds. They cemented their friendship during those dusty weeks at the border, and Kah’len would always remember that time as the happiest he had ever been.

            Princess Ajla Obeli arrived at the border exactly six weeks after the peace accord. With her came the King and Queen of South Torahn, their children, and an entourage of aristocrats who came to witness the wedding. The inns were at the border town of Safin were soon filled to capacity. A stage had been built in the middle of the town and decorated to resemble a gazebo. The gazebo structure had been festooned with flowers and colorful ribbons that snapped in the breeze. Flower petals and sweet rushes had been thrown over the ground. Tall lampposts had been raised around the stage and oil lamps hung from their hooks.

            Kah’len was not allowed to meet the princess until the wedding, but he did meet the King and Queen of South Torahn. Fael Dhin Obeli, the Red King, was still young, in his late thirties or early forties, as was his Queen, Elea Obeli-Savah. They made a handsome, if stuffy, couple. With them had come Nhove Obeli, their oldest son and heir, and his family: his wife Hana, and his children Quan, Atha, and Tarei, who was a newborn. Then there was Bhar Obeli, a fourteen year old eager to join the military. His eyes shone with admiration when he looked upon Kah’len. He was organized and highly intelligent, but he, thankfully, had a mischievous sense of humor. He was strapping and tall, looking older than his age, and by the end of the first day, Kah’len asked that Tarei be allowed to remain with him as his aide. He would be conscripted into the armed forces as soon as the lad turned fifteen. The boy trailed him wherever Kah’len went. Kah’len was amused and touched. He looked so much like Lahn, so eager and capable even at his young age.

            The night of the wedding celebration, the moon rose full and gold. The sky was full of stars. People arrived at the raised platform hours before the ceremony. It was an odd sight, common soldiers mingling with the aristocracy in their finest. Jewels winked on ladies’ throats and pinned to their hair. Gentlemen in satin and silk talked with soldiers in dress uniforms. Kah’len, gazing from his pavilion, was deeply moved and his mind filled with possibilities for the future. Behind him, Tarei Bhar talked about his sister to Commanders Aud and Daven. The youth was full of humorous stories about his little sister, whom he irreverently referred to as a stick in the mud like his mother.

            “You shouldn’t talk about your sister like that,” Kah’len said over his shoulder.

            Tarei snorted. “Wait until you meet her. She’s so proper, it’s like someone stuck a pole up her arse.”

            Commander Aud coughed into his hand and pursed his lips.

            Kah’len turned. “She is going to be a Queen soon, Bhar. I would like you to respect her.”

            Bhar rolled his eyes. “Begging your pardon, my lord, but she is already full of her own importance. She could use a douse of reality.”

            Kah’len sighed.

            Daven indicated Bhar with a hand. “I think the boy has a point. She won’t get along with the other Queens if she is uppity. You want peace in the harem, yes?”

            “Harem,” Kah’len mouthed with distaste and shook his head. “I suppose you are right, Daven.”

            Bhar whooped and clapped his hands. “You’ll thank me, my lord! I’ll keep her feet grounded on the earth. You should hear how poorly she treats the servants now that she is going to be a queen. I just don’t know where she learned her manners, that one.”

            There was a scratch at the pavilion flap.

            “Come!” Kah’len called.

            A guard ducked into the tent. “Begging your pardon, Warlord. The Oracle is ready for the ceremony to proceed.”

            Kah’len nodded. “Then we are, too. Daven, Aud, with me. Behave yourself, Bhar!”

            Bhar bowed. “I won’t embarrass you, Warlord.”

            Kah’len ducked under the tent flap and stepped out into the cool evening. The congregation was silent as he made his way with his two commanders at his back. He climbed up the five wooden steps to the platform, where Lahn waited, dressed in full priestly regalia. His long, gold outer robes glinted in the buttery light from the oil lamps. They fell to the ground. A gold rope belt cinched around his trim waist. His conical hat was adorned with jewels and pearls. He looked every bit the Prei-Serren of Draemin City-State. His eyes watched Kah’len coolly as Kah’len walked up to the stage and bowed to him.

            “Excellency,” he said softly.

            Lahn’s gaze roamed hungrily over Kah’len’s form. “Warlord.”

            A horn sounded from left of the congregation. The gathering parted like a sea and an escort of six guards carrying candles led the way for the little princess. Kah’len almost gaped. She looked older than her twelve years, tall and graceful and poised. She wore a light green satin dressed tight around her waist. The bodice of the dress was full of pearls and emeralds. The train of the dress was full and fell to the ground, the train trailing several feet behind her. The train, too, was studded with pearls. She wore a long silk veil dotted with emeralds and pearls. Her slender arms were bare and pale in the lamplight. Her neck was elegant and slender and a dark green satin choker enveloped it. She looked neither left nor right as she glided over flowers petals and rushes until she came to the platform, where a young guard took her arms and guided her up the five steps. Her eyes raised and she gazed at Kah’len with curiosity. She had large pale gray eyes surrounded by long sooty lashes. Her resemblance to Lahn constricted his heart. Her full lips were identical to his. It was almost as if they were twins.

            Kah’len turned to face her.

            Lahn took Kah’len’s left hand and her right hand and joined them.

            Ajla’s hand was cold and slender. Her eyes observed Kah’len fearlessly and boldly.

            “We are here to join North and South Torahn,” Lahn intoned, his voice carrying easily in the silence. “We are here among gods, blessed and conscripted into their holy plans. I bless this marriage to be long lived and full of joy, laughter, and friendship. May you be blessed with many, many children.” Lahn cleared his throat. “The Goddess of North Torahn blesses you, Ajla Obeli-Savah.” He placed his hand on her head and she bowed her head to accept his blessing. “The Goddess of North Torahn blesses you, Ajla Obeli-Savah.” He placed his hand on her groin and murmured a prayer.

            Lahn turned to Kah’len. His gorgeous eyes were faraway and cold. “I bless you, Kah’len Tjashensi, Warlord of North Torahn.” He touched Kah’len’s forehead then placed a hand on his groin. “I bless you, Kah’len Tjashensi, in the name of Holy Atana.”

            Lahn raised his arms over his head. “Marriage is entered humbly and with good intentions. This marriage is between two nations, two peoples, two cultures. I bless it in the name of Holy Atana. May whomever opposes this union speak now or forever refrain.”

            Silence reigned over the congregation.

            Lahn lowered his arms and reached behind him, picking up a sol’eka bracelet with its accompanying ring. He took Kah’len’s left arm, already holding four sol’ekas. He placed the final sol’eka near the elbow and closed the clasp. He then ran the thin gold chain along the Warlord’s forearm to his middle finger, where four thin bands already congregated. Lahn slipped the final band over Kah’len’s middle finger. The band came to the knuckle and would make bending the digit quite difficult for the Warlord.

            “I marry you Kah’len Tjashensi to Ajla Obeli-Savah,” Lahn intoned.

            Then Lahn turned around, picked up the second sol’eka bracelet and placed it on the princess’ slender right wrist, slipping the slender band over her middle finger. “I marry you, Ajla Obeli-Savah, to the Warlord of North Torahn, Kah’len Tjashensi.”

            Lahn turned to the congregation and lifted their hands into the air. “I declare this couple married in the name of Holy Atana, Maiden, Warrior and Mother!”

            Kah’len stepped to Ajla, lifted her diaphanous veil, and pressed a chaste kiss to her mouth.

            The congregation erupted into cheers and hoots. Soldiers stamped their feet.

            Kah’len led Ajla down to the ground, where musicians had begun to play traditional Northern Torahn songs. The congregation parted to allow the couple to lead the traditional wedding dance. Even though Ajla did not know the dance, she was light in Kah’len’s arms and was a quick study. Her face flushed and her eyes glittered and her smile made her quite beautiful. He spun her around, lifting her over his head, then setting her down once more. She laughed breathlessly and he joined her. They came into each other’s arms and spun as the music grew faster. Other couples were spinning around in a large circle near them.

            After several dances with his wife, the father of the bride took his turn with the young woman.

            Kah’len turned away, ready for a dram of wine or ekila.

            “My lord.”

            Kah’len turned.

            Elea Obeli-Savah, Queen of South Torahn, curtsied. “May I have this dance?”

            “Of course, your Majesty,” he dutifully replied and took her in his arms.

            They danced for a few minutes in silence.

            “Be kind and gentle with Ajla,” the Queen said. “She looks poised and serious, but she is still only a child.”

            “I would not bed her until she is of age,” he murmured.

            She stiffened. “She is of age for an aristocrat. You must bed her and cement our treaty with a child.”

            “It is dangerous for a girl of her age to carry a child to term,” he said gently.

            She chuckled. “I had my first at eleven, my lord. She comes from good breeding stock. She is sturdy and healthy.”

            “Yes, your Majesty,” he said, suddenly weary to his soul.

            “And are you and my son friends?” she prompted.

            “We are becoming so,” he replied. “He pleases me and I love him with all my heart.”

            She pulled back to gaze into his eyes. “You do love him. I can see it in you when you look at him. I don’t expect you to love Ajla in the same way, but I don expect you to respect her, to befriend her, and to treat her kindly.”

            “Upon my honor, it shall be so.”

            She gazed into his eyes for a long time before she nodded. “I believe you, Warlord of North Torahn.”

            “Thank you,” he murmured.

            Her gaze turned steely. “We will not leave the border until my child quickens with life, Warlord. You must know this.”

            “I had no idea,” he assured her. “But it seems prudent of you.”

            She smiled coldly. “So diplomatic for one so young.”

            She stepped out of the circle of his arms. “We have an understanding, you and I?”

            He bowed. “We do, your Majesty.”

            She gave a satisfied nod and glided away.

            That night, in Kah’len’s spacious pavilion, he stayed up late conversing with his new bride. He attempted to set her mind at ease, but she was adamant that he bed her and get her with child. She had no interest in courting his friendship, it seemed. He sighed and did his best to please her in bed. It helped that she seemed older than her years, that her body was fully developed, slender and beautiful. It was certainly no hardship to bed her, to enter her tight velvety heat. He did not kiss her, though, and she did not asked to be kissed. He took her thrice until she felt into a deep, exhausted sleep. Then he lay awake the remainder of the night, his skin perfumed by her scent, the smell of sex and sweat clinging to his flesh. He found himself disliking her and her quickly strangled those emotions. He would be friendly and respectful towards her, but they would not ever be friends.

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