Book Two The Descendants: Belihn Prologue

          The young woman could not have been more than eighteen years of age.  She was beautiful; stunning really, with a froth of black curls that fell down her narrow back.  Her heart-shaped face was delicate, as were her slightly slanted green eyes and full lips.  She turned her back to her servants, who unbuttoned her dress until it slid to her feet.  Stepping over the gold satin fabric, the girl turned again so that her servants could untie the fastenings on her corset.  When they removed the corset, the girl allowed them to pull down her slip until the girl stood naked and slender, her honey-dark skin reacting to the cold of her room.  She had smallish, pert breasts with small dark nipples.  Belihn glanced at the dark triangle between her legs for a second before she was stepping into the porcelain bathing tub and the servants were pouring warm water over her skin.
            Belihn looked away, feeling oddly cold and distant.  Beside him, his half-brothers whispered fervent and passionate imprecations as they continued to observe the girl being bathed on the other side of the wall, through holes cut into the wallpaper that covered the walls of her bathing chamber.  Belihn slid onto his butt and turned his back to the wall, resting his arms on his raised knees, hands dangling between his legs.  Thankfully, his half-brothers could not see him in the darkness.  Lius had extinguished the oil lamp once they had found the girl’s bathing chamber and the corresponding holes in the walls.
            “How did you discover this bounty?” his half-brother, Atin, asked.
            Lius huffed a laugh.  “I like exploring the hidden passageways.  When I discovered the holes, she was squatting over the waste bucket, urinating.”
            “She is stunning,” Vallaw murmured.
            Lius sighed.  “Yes.  She is one of mother’s ladies-in-waiting.  From South Torahn.”
            “She’s at least half-Tjish.unen,” Atin noted breathlessly.  “With those green eyes.”
            Belihn sat very quietly as his brothers discussed the young woman as if she was some animal at auction.  His face suffused with blood as he sat there, shaken and uncertain.  What was wrong with him that he didn’t find her arousing, fascinating, that he was only embarrassed for himself and for her?  That shame coursed through his body at every word Lius, Vallaw, Ean, and Atin uttered among themselves.  They seemed to have forgotten he was there.  That did not surprise him at all, as he was barely tolerated by his princely half-brothers.  He was a half-commoner, after all, wasn’t he?  Lius was the son of Ariahl Solastis, the daughter of the Oligarch of R’Nonay.  Ean was the son of a princess of South Torahn, and Vallaw was the son of Sjanita Thalmar, the youngest daughter of the Queen of Tjish.un.  Belihn’s mother had been an obscure nobody plucked out of the gutter by his father because of a dream he had had from Atana the Goddess. Because she was beautiful, she had caught the eye of the Warlord of North Torahn and was now one of his four queens.  But nobody ever forgot she had been a mere gutter rat once, wearing threadbare dresses and eating discarded food behind taverns and inns.  Her father had been a lamplighter and chimney sweep.  The lowest of the lowest.  Even Lius, who didn’t seem to care about caste, teased Belihn once in a while about his humble roots.
            “Ah, she is dressing again,” Vallaw murmured.  “We should head back before we are missed.”
            Belihn said nothing as his half-brothers made their way down the dark, hidden corridor.  He stayed on his butt on the dusty floor, his mind frozen with the realization that he was yet again set apart from his the rest of his family.  He was fifteen, Goddess!  When was he going to grow up?  When was he going to stop reacting when other boys brushed up against him by accident, when their warm scents filled his nose, when he was in the common bathing house, aware of the naked bodies of young men around him, afraid to look, afraid to become aroused by their chests and arms, by their flaccid cocks nestled between muscular thighs?  He groaned and covered his face with cold, shaking hands.
            Wasn’t it bad enough, Goddess, that he was half dirt?  His grandmother had tried to get him into a good marriage with a wealthy young woman but none of the clans would touch him with a ten foot pole because his mother’s common blood tainted his veins.  The best he could do was marry the bastard daughter of some wealthy clan head.  Bastards did not inherit anything from their fathers, did they?  Neither were they entitled to their fathers’ good names. He closed his eyes and released the breath he hadn’t known he was holding.  His head spun with shock and the beginning of the realization that he might never become interested in girls or young women, so perhaps it was a blessing none of the clan heads wanted him marrying their daughters.  His face burned with his shame.
            His father’s family was kind and warm to him, and his mother’s father and mother were the kindest, most generous people he had ever known, but it seemed he could not set aside his shame.  He hated that his grandfather had been a lamplighter and chimney sweep.  He hated that the entirety of court knew it; that all the courtiers knew his mother had eaten discarded, half-rotting food to stay alive.  He could read the cold laughter and acidic amusement in their eyes when they looked at him. Of course, they were always polite to his face; he was the King’s legitimate son after all.  But behind his back, they made sport of his past. And now this–this part of him that didn’t want to grow up.  This part of him that was deviant and tainted by feelings that were unnatural and unwanted.  He rubbed his hot face with his icy hands and sighed.  On most nights, he lay in bed and his mind would latch to visions of Lius, his half-brother.  Handsome, charming, suave Lius who left girls swooning in his wake; who at fourteen had bedded his first young woman.  Who was not unnatural and twisted, like Belihn was.  Who would probably marry a princess and rule one of the city-states one day, while all Belihn could ever hope for was to rise to the rank of Commander in the armed forces.
            His hands fisted until his fingernails were biting into the palms.  He wanted to break something, to shatter something.  He shook his head.  He should really accept his place in society; he should embrace his common roots, but he just…all he wanted, all he had ever wanted, was to fit into his family, to be a prince like his brothers.  His mother had arranged for his sister, Tifa, to marry the heir to a shipping forturne.  Tifa seemed happy enough; it had been a boy she met at university.  His youngest sister, Ilmi, wanted to join an abbey.  And then there was the youngest of his siblings, his brother T’arehn.  Nobody knew what T’arehn wanted, but he seemed content enough with his lot.  But Belihn could not be; never could be.  Could not seem able to accept his fate and his life without embarrassment, disappointment and a blind anger at his mother and grandparents.  As soon as he turned fifteen, he had joined the army.  He thought he would be relegated to the infantry, but his sire had gifted him a beautiful bahil.  So he was training in the cavalry now, much to the dismay of the clans.  The cavalry was for the aristocracy and even though Belihn was the legitimate son of the King of Draemin City, he was half a commoner.  
            It made for a lonely, difficult life.  He had no friends, no acquaintances.  No clan head’s son wanted to befriend him.  If it wasn’t for his half-brothers, he would have been unbearably lonely.  But now that he was in the army, he saw less and less of his brothers on a daily basis.  Even though Ean was in the cavalry, too, he was in another battalion.  By all accounts, he was fitting in well enough and was tremendously popular and sought after by his cohorts.  
            A long time later, exhausted and unsettled, he rose and felt his way blindly to the library, where he found the lever and pulled it until the wall swung inward and he stepped into the candlelit room.  There was no one in the library, but a cheerful fire crackled in the fireplace.  Behind him, the secret doorway swung shut with a soft click.  He ran his eyes wearily over the extensive shelves of books.  This room had been his solace when he had been younger.  He had spent a lot of time alone reading especially fairy tales and adventure stories.  The padded armchairs were comfortable and, on more than one occasion, his caretaker had found him curled up on an armchair, book open on his lap, fast asleep.
            He sighed and strode across the library to the door then stepped out into the hallway.  The library was one of the few rooms that was not guarded.  He breathed deeply and made his way down the wide hallway filled with paintings of his father’s ancestors. He had spent lots of time studying the cold, aloof faces painted in oil and strong colors and hung on the rough stone walls.  He felt no kinships to bygone kings and queens, princes and princesses.  He felt more kinship to the servants who tended to him, who held him in such high regard, who held him up as a shiny beacon of hope for their personal lives.  Some envied him but he was held dear by all the servants, as was his mother and her parents.  Of course, his mother had retreated from court years ago, to live at her parents’ villa south of the city.  She had not said why she had left court, but he fancied he could guess she had been belittled, teased, taunted and insulted on a daily basis by courtiers and the other of the king’s wives.  The only one of the wives to treat his mother kindly was Ariahl Solastis.  Kind and distant Ariahl Solastis, daughter of a despot.
            “Where did you go?” he heard from behind him.
            He turned to find his half-brothers striding down the hall to where he stood staring at the paintings on the wall.
            Lius smirked and threw his arm around Belihn’s shoulders.  “I bet he went to relieve the pressure from his kauon.”
            Ean and Vallaw chuckled.
            Belihn felt the hot blood rush to his head, leaving him lightheaded.
            “You don’t have to tell us,” Lius whispered in Belihn’s ears, bringing a rush of pleasure over his skin.  “I understand how it is.”
            Lius pulled him down the hallway,  “We need to find a girl for the four of us to share.”
            Ean whooped.  “Do you know someone?”
            Lius raised an eyebrow.  “Have I ever failed you, Ean?”
            Ean bowed.  “No, my prince.  You have not.  Who is the girl?”
            “Lania nei-Ys’teis,” Lius replied.
            “A bastard?” Vallaw asked.
            Lius rolled his eyes.  “A legitimate daughter would not service the four of us, you dolt!”
            Vallaw blushed.  “Uh–no, you’re right, of course.”
            Lius gave a huff of laughter.  “Besides, bastardy is not catching, Vallaw.  Are you afraid she’ll infect you?”
            Vallaw’s blush deepened.  “No.  I meant nothing by it.”
            Lius snorted and steered them towards the nearest tower.  
            “How old is Lania?” Ean asked.
            Lius gave a lazy shrug.  “She’s young:  sixteen, I think.  Does it matter?”
            Ean wrinkled his nose.  “I don’ want an old woman, that’s all.”
            Lius leered.  “I take sex as it comes, brother.  So should you.”
            Ean made a gagging sound, which sent Lius into peals of laughter.
            Belihn pulled from under Lius’ arm.  “I’m going to bow out of this one, Lius.  I had a summons from my mother and I’m supposed to head out to the vinyard today.”
            Lius shook his head.  “It won’t take long, Belihn.”
            “You go on without me,” Belihn said, turning away.  “It’s late enough in the day already.”
            “Suit yourself,” Lius said and turned away.
            He whispered something to Ean and Vallaw that made the other two burst out laughing.
            Belihn could just imagine what was said and his face flushed with blood again.  
His heart hurt when he thought of the distance between himself and his half-brothers. With a sigh, he made his way to the stairwell and headed up to the fifth floor to his suites, where he would pack and leave the city for the villa for a couple of days.

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