Chapter II: The Storm

            A day later, Belihn was woken by a pounding on his room door.  The pounding was so fierce, Belihn feared for the door’s integrity.  He rose quickly from bed and stumbled to the door, throwing it open.  Four guards stood on the other side of the threshold.

            “Please dress, Captain.  The King is demanding to see you right away.”

            “Give me a moment, please,” Belihn murmured and closed the door.

            He dressed quickly, taking but a moment to splash cold water on his face, then to brush and braid his hair.  

            He was escorted to Castle Draemin, two guards leading the way, and two guards bringing up the rear.  They marched him through the crowded Great Hall and down to the War Room behind the Throne Room.  One of the guards opened the door, announced him and stepped back to allow him entrance.

            Warlord Bhar Obeli, Commander-General Rakah Ys’teis, Lady Oona Obeli-Thalmar, Lord Domio Obeli,and Commanders Aud Salit’, Maedoc Kalish, and Deven Halso were in the room alongside King Kah’len. They sat at the half moon table facing the door through which Belihn had entered.  There was a single highbacked chair facing the table.

            The King was pale, his green eyes cold.

            Warlord Bhar Obeli rose.  “Have a seat in the chair, Belihn.”

            Belihn walked around the chair and took a seat.  His heart was clamoring in his chest.  He gripped the arms of the chair and took a deep, bracing breath.

            Warlord Bhar Obeli tapped the tabletop with a finger and sighed.  He walked away from the table and began to slowly pace before Belihn’s chair.

            “You have conscripted yourself to the Yllysian army, Captain?  Is this the case?” the Warlord asked.

            “Yes.”

            The Warlord nodded.  “I see.  Is there a reason you went to Yllysia?”    

            “You went to the other embassies and told the ambassadors not to accept my conscription,” Belihn retorted bitterly.  “I had no choice.”

            The king slammed his hand on the tabletop and rose so quickly, the chair toppled behind him.

            “There is always a choice!” he roared.  He took a deep breath.  “I haven’t decided if this is treason or not, Belihn Tjashensi.  We have no formal agreement, no formal treaty, with Yllysia.  But not more than 10 years ago, we were at war.  They spat on Bhar’s warning.  You bring us to the brink of war!”

            Belihn watched as his father rubbed a hand over his forehead and sighed.  “I am trying to understand you, son.”

            “You won’t be able to,” Belihn replied.  “You aren’t half-commoner.  You don’t have to put up with snide remarks, insolence and ridicule.  You don’t have to put up with a measly salary and the inability to rise the ranks of the military–“

            “Enough!” the King spat.  “I don’t need any more of your complaints.  You are a prince of the blood.”

            Belihn rose.  “I am a commoner!  Your own family does not see me as a prince, why should anyone?”

            The King took a deep breath.  “Sit. Down.”

            Belihn dropped into the chair once more.

            The King shook his head.  “If you go into the Yllysian army, you are no longer part of this clan, Belihn.  You will be prohibited from contacting your family, your mother, your sisters or your brother.  Do I make myself clear?”

            “You’re a tyrant!” Belihn hissed.

            The King straightened to his full height.  “Do I make myself clear?”

            Belihn rose.  “Abundantly.”  He spat on the floor.  “Goodbye, King Kah’len.  I curse your rule, your family, your pride.  May you fall.”

            “You stay right there,” Warlord Bhar Obeli snarled.  “No one’s dismissed you!”

            “I am Yllysian from now on,” Belihn stated coldly.  “If you have a problem with my comportment, you can contact the Ambassador.”

            “Belihn!” the King roared.

            Belihn strode from the room.  He hurried down the Great Hall to the stairs, taking them two at a time to the fifth floor and to his mother’s suites.  He burst into the sitting room.

            The Queen gasped and dropped her knitting.  “Belihn!  What is it?”

            He strode to where she stood and put his hands on her slender shoulders.  “I have been banned from the clan, Aya. I won’t be able to contact you after today.”

            The Queen paled and swayed.  “What?”

            “I just wanted to let you know I’ll be fine and I will marry Alona.”  He pressed a kiss to her cheek.  “I love you, Mother.  When I advise you to leave Draemin City-State, will you do as I ask?”

            She swallowed and nodded.

            “Civil war is less than ten years away,” he continued quickly.  “I don’t want you here when the trouble starts.  I’ll send you a missive.”        

            “I will wait for it, child,” she said and hugged him.   “I don’t understand any of this, Belihn.  I hope you are doing what is correct.”

            “Trust me,” he said into her fragrant hair.  “I can do nothing else, Mother.”

            Her hazel eyes glittered with unshed tears.  “Please be careful.”

            He nodded and pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Tell my siblings goodbye for me.”

            When the pounding came on the hallway door, Belihn snuck out through the servants’ hallway.  He took little used passageways until he was outside in the bailey.  Returning to his room, he packed his belongings into his chest and dressed in civilian clothes, leaving his uniforms folded on the bed.  He managed to find a carriage that agreed to take him to the Yllysian Embassy.  He clamored into the conveyance, his trunk on the floor at his feet.  Once the carriage was clattering over the moat bridge and down the wide boulevard, Belihn released his breath.  The entire journey to the Diplomatic District, he kept sneaking glances out of the back window, but there was no pursuit.  He closed his eyes and allowed the idea of never seeing his mother again seep properly into his mind.  He prayed to Atana that Civil War came swiftly and swept the old guard away, leaving the throne clean and new.

            By the time the carriage rolled to a stop before the Yllysian Embassy, Belihn had gotten control of himself.  He stepped down and carried his chest with him into the large building

            The guards in the foyer asked his business.

            “I need to see Neth Oronom Shejl,” Belihn replied.

            One of the guard raked a mistrustful glance over Belihn.  “Wait here then.”

            It took long minutes during which Belihn’s knees gave out from under him and he sat down on the chest and tried to gather his wits about him.

            “Your highness,” Neth Oronom Shejl murmured and approached Belihn.

            Belihn shakily stood up.  “Sir.”

            “You have come to join us then?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            The ambassadorial aide ran his gaze over Belihn.  “You are no longer wearing a uniform.”

            “That is done,” Belihn replied.  “I’ve been exiled from my clan.”

            The aide cocked his head.  “Then come, the Ambassador will see you.”  He turned to one of the guards.  “Please set the Prince’s chest in the green guest room.”

            The guard bowed.  “Right away, sir.”

            “Come with me, Prince Tjashensi.”

            As they walked down the hallways, Belihn said, “I am no longer a prince.  Please call me Belihn.”

            Shejl looked at him.  “You are taking all this rather well, aren’t you?”

            Belihn shrugged.  “There is nothing to be done.  I have to be able to live with myself.”

            “Indeed,” the aide murmured.

            Ambassador Tah’duk’h was standing with his back to the door, his hands clasped behind him, gazing out of the only window in the room.  

            He said, without turning around, “My spies are buzzing with surprising news about you and the king of Draemin City-State.”    

            “I’m sure,” Belihn replied dryly and went to stand before the desk.

            The Ambassador turned around.  “Have a seat, Prince Belihn.”

            “I am no longer a prince,” Belihn informed him and took a seat.

            The Ambassador sat down behind his desk.  “This is all most curious.  The King must love you dearly, to lose his famous equanimity so thoroughly.”

            “His pride has been pricked, is all,” Belihn said.

            “Surely, your father loves you,” the Ambassador said.

            “My father has fifteen children, Excellency,” he replied hollowly.  “I broke my spirit while still a youngster trying to win his affection and a smidgen of his attention.  Father never had time for any of us.  He thinks we owe him blind loyalty because he is our father and the King.  I don’t owe him anything.”

            The Ambassador sighed and sat back, steepling his fingers before him.  “I see.  We owe fealty to our sires, if only because we owe them our lives.”

            “I owe my father my life, yes,” Belihn agreed.   “I have paid him over and over, by doing what he wanted me to do.  He wanted me to join the army, which I did.  But I won’t stand by idly while he destroys this city with his cowardice.”

            “Strong words,” the Ambassador murmured silkily.  His pale eyes studied Belihn.  “I won’t balk at letting you know we don’t trust any of this.  You’ll have to prove yourself to us.”    

            “I knew that would be,” Belihn replied dully  “We are ancient enemies, after all.”

            The Ambassador smiled coldly.  “That we are.”

            He rose and walked to the outer office and murmured a few words to his aide before returning to the inner office and sitting down once more.

            “I’ve sent for the Commander of our forces in Draemin City,” the Ambassador said.  “It will be up to him where you’ll be stationed and what rank you’ll hold.”

            “I thought I would remain here, in Draemin City-State,” Belihn murmured.

            The Ambassador tapped a finger on the desktop.  “That isn’t up to me.  We have a small force here and it’s mostly for the protection of our embassy staff.”

            Belihn shifted.  “Sir, I need to be able to assist the reformist forces.”

            The Ambassador sighed.  “Then perhaps it would be best if you leave the armed forces, Belihn.  Be a free agent, do what you will, but if you join the Yllysian forces, you will be sent where you are most needed.”  He sighed.  “You are our only hope for the throne once your sire is deposed.  I suggest you learn a new trade and wait until we need you to ascend the salta wood throne.”

            Belihn rose.  “You are dismissing me?”

            The Ambassador leaned against the desk.  “Listen, Belihn.  You know the life of a soldier; if you wish to remain here, in Draemin City, you will do so as a civilian.”  He raised a hand against Belihn’s rising protests.  “I will remain in touch with you.  Go and help the reformist forces, Belihn.  We will assist you when the time is ripe.”  He sighed.  “Do you have a place to stay?”

            Belihn swallowed thickly. “No, but I have acquaintances in town.  I’ll get myself an apartment.  May I return later for my belongings?”    

            “You may,” Ambassador Tah’duk’h replied.  “You know, if you take a few diplomatic courses at university, we can find a place for you here, at the embassy.  Had you not been such a hothead, I would’ve offered you to remain in the army of Draemin City-State as my spy.”

            Belihn sat down slowly.  “I’ve lost everything for naught.”

            The Ambassador shook his head.  “Not for naught, boy.  Your pride is assuaged, after all.  Take the courses and join my embassy as a liaison.  The course takes two years; have you anything else to be doing?”

            “No,” Belihn replied hollowly.

            “Then sign up at the university.  You can work as a secretary for the embassy.”

            Belihn squared his shoulders.  “I shall.”

            The Ambassador nodded.  “Good.  You can return for your belongings.  Good day, Belihn.”  The Ambassador turned.  “Oh, have you decided on a surname, now that your clan has disowned you?”

            “No, sir.”

            “Then I suggest, for irony’s sake, you choose an Yllysian surname.  You belong to us now.”

            Belihn cocked his head.  “You have a name in mind?”

            “Ekesj,” the Ambassador replied.  “You can found your own clan when you are King and give the clan an Yllysian name.”

            “Belihn Ekesj,” Belihn tried out.  He rather liked it.  He nodded.  “It sounds good.”

            The Ambassador smiled.  “Good.  Let me know where you will be residing, in case I need to get in touch with you.”

            “Yes, sir.”

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