Six weeks later, and two weeks prior to his coronation, Belihn found himself once more at the docks, sitting astride Eiwor and watching an Yllysian ship being tugged to its pier. The ship carried his future wife, Morisjen Simaji’h Emira’h, her possessions and her entourage of young ladies-in-waiting. Emira’h was 16 years of age and had lived in a convent until six weeks prior, when she had been chosen as his mate. Emira’h was the only daughter of the governor of Morisjen City. Lord Simaji’h had five sons and one daughter. Emira’h was a devotee of the goddess Chaitah, goddess of high dibasj, birth, love and sex. Why a goddess of love and sex should have a convent of virgin nuns, Belihn would never understand. Thoughts like these occupied his nervous mind as he waited for the ship to be tied to the dock and its gangplank to be lowered.
Once the gangplank was lowered, a line of Yllysian warriors descended, followed by six young women. The young women wore brown wimples and dresses with high collars and long sleeves. The girl at the front of the line wore a brown and gold dress with a long skirt that fell to her ankles, a brown jacket with long sleeves, and a butter-colored silk shirt with a high collar underneath her jacket.
Belihn looked closely at her. She had a comely oval face, light blue eyes and a generous mouth. The blue of her skin was of medium tone and she was slight and small. The other girls were taller, though slender and still on the small side.
He dismounted and handed his reins to one of the soldiers who had escorted him to the docks. Both Commander-General Rakah Ys’teis and Commander Kurk Deshon were present and stepped behind him as he strode to the pier to meet the young woman.
She stopped at the end of the pier and looked around expectantly.
He strode up to her and bowed. “Welcome to Draemin City to the Daughters of the Ten. I am Belihn Stait-Ekesj, ruler.”
The young girl at the front curtsied. “Blessings of the Goddess Chaitah upon you, Son of Torahn. I am Morisjen Simaji’h Emira’h, but you may call me Emira’h. My friends call me Emi.”
He bowed to her. “And you may call me Belihn, my lady.” He indicated her entourage. “These are your ladies-in-waiting?”
Emira’h curtsied once more. “Yes, your Grace. This is Rue’Kure Uhay-K’heb Nilki, Nosjka’h Ira’h’ma Salika, Hjana Quintok Kilsi, Stathos Uth’ai’rhen Asjana, and E’jnasj Nes’san Mari’h.”
Belihn bowed to them. “Ladies, an honor.”
The girls giggled, some watching him boldly while the others dropped their gazes.
Belihn offered Emira’h his arm. “Come, I will escort you to the waiting carriages.”
She placed her slender hand on his forearm.
Within the next second, Belihn heard a high pitched whine and then he felt an impact to his chest and fell unto his back. Around him, chaos exploded. Someone was throwing incendiary devices around him. One fell nearby and exploded. The girls were screaming with terror. He watched distantly as he was surrounded by Yllysian soldiers, while the girls were bundled into the waiting carriages and hurried away.
One of his guard knelt next to him.
Belihn forced his eyes open. His chest hurt and he had begun to shake. “What happened?”
“You were pierced by an arrow,” his guard replied. “We have to get you back to the castle as soon as possible.”
There was a telltale burning under the pain and Belihn shook his head. “Pull the arrow out.”
The young Yllysian paled. “Your Grace?”
“Poisoned,” Belihn muttered, fighting to keep from losing consciousness. “Pull it out.”
Commander Kurk Deshon knelt next to Belihn. “He’s right. If it’s poisoned, we have to pull it out and see if he can bleed the poison out. Here, stand back.”
Kurk got hold of the arrow and pulled.
The flash of pain as the arrowhead tore through tissue had Belihn screaming. Everything faded to black.
Belihn faded in and out of consciousness. At one point, he was aware that he was in a carriage as it raced to its destination. When he awoke again, he was being carried then laid on a bed. Strangers bent over him, their dark eyes glowing faintly. He heard someone groan. Then a young woman was pressing a wet cloth to his forehead and along his cheeks. She looked away and said something in a strange language just before Belihn blacked out again. When he became aware once more, he saw Alona sitting in an armchair next to the bed, his mother beside her, talking in soft voices. He heard a moan.
His mother gasped and bent over him. “Belihn! Run and get the healer, Alona.”
“Aya–” he said, his voice breathy.
“Hush, child. Conserve your energy. The healer is coming.”
She picked up a cloth and dabbed at his forehead and cheeks.
The room smelled of medicine and sweat, urine and blood. He turned his head. His chest hurt, as did his throat and head.
“He’s awake?” someone said.
His mother moved away.
A young healer sat at the edge of the bed. “How do you feel, your Grace?”
“Chest hurts, throat and head, too,” Belihn replied and panted as a wave of nausea washed over him.
The healer lifted Belihn’s head and fed him from a mug. The liquid was cool but bitter. He grimaced and forced himself to swallow.
“You are slowly expelling the poison,” the healer told him. “I am giving you an herb that forces the body to sweat and produce urine. You are lucky you recognized the poison quickly.”
“What kind of poison was it?” Belihn asked.
The healer grimaced. “Alait rose.”
Belihn coughed a laugh. “They wanted to kill me, didn’t they?”
“I daresay,” the healer replied. “But alait rose poisoning is unpredictable, though often deadly.”
Belihn closed his eyes. “Yes. That may have saved me.”
“I daresay it did,” the healer agreed.
When he woke again, the pain had lessened considerably, especially in his throat. His head still thumped from a headache and his chest felt raw and tight. He looked around the room. Ta’rehn was sprawled on a chair next to the bed and was snoring softly. Belihn pushed himself to a half-sitting position and groaned at the pain.
Ta’rehn started awake. He turned his head and gasped. “Belihn!”
“Help me sit up, Ta’rehn.”
His brother assisted him, stacking pillows at his back to help prop him up.
“Do you need anything?” Ta’rehn asked.
“Some water,” Belihn muttered. “Thirsty.”
Ta’rehn stood and stepped up to the bedside table, where he poured water from a pitcher into a mug.
Belihn held his hand out and took the mug in his shaking hand. It took him three tries before he was able to drink sufficiently to relieve his thirst. He handed Ta’rehn the empty mug.
“How do you feel?” his brother asked him.
“Nauseous,” Belihn muttered. “And worn down. Did Kurk find out who attacked me?”
Ta’rehn retook his seat. “Yes. Some clan operative who was tortured. He revealed quite a bit and then the Yllysians flushed out several other operatives and traitors.”
“How long have I been out off it?”
Ta’rehn considered. “Ten days.”
Belihn gasped. “Ten days!” He made to stand before the flesh under his bandages pulled and fell back with a groan.
“Stop it, brother!” Ta’rehn growled. “You’ve probably undone the stitches!” He rose. “I’ll get the healer and Commander Deshon.”
He ran from the room.
It turned out Belihn had undone some of the stitches, so he had to put up with his wound being re-stitched. Alait rose poisoning hindered healing, so the wound was still not fully healed. By the time the healer was done sewing the wound, Belihn was freely sweating. His mother bathed him and then his clothes and the bedclothes were changed before he was allowed to lie down once more. He lay on the pile of pillows and waited for the nausea to pass before opened his eyes and turned to gaze at Kurk.
“Give me your report.”
Kurk shared a glance with Ryeo’h before turning back to Belihn. “Rakah betrayed you.”
Belihn sighed. “He orchestrated the attack?”
Kurk leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. “He was aware of it. He knew the operatives and allowed them to do what they came to do.”
“Where is Rakah?” he asked.
“He took his life,” Ryeo’h replied. “Someone alerted him that we were coming for him. He hung himself in his house. We’ve confiscated his properties and exiled his wife and children to Tjish.un.”
Belihn waved a hand. “His properties are yours, Kurk. You are now Commander-General Kurk Deshon.”
“Belihn–” Kurk protested.
“No,” Belihn interrupted him. “You are now in charge of the forces of Draemin City-State and of security. Partner with the Yllysians to secure my reign.”
Kurk blew out a breath. “Right away, your Grace. We have to crown you and perform your marriages. I’ve already conferred with the High Priest.”
Belihn closed his eyes as a wave of exhaustion washed over him. “Is Uncle Lahn loyal to me?”
Kurk shifted. “He has not done anything to belie that statement, your Grace. For all we know, he is loyal. The man has always tottered on the brink of madness, so I don’t know how much his loyalty is worth.”
Belihn huffed a laugh. “He is touched by the Goddess, but he is not insane, Kurk.”
Kurk looked unconvinced, which elicited another laugh from Belihn.
“We need the High Priest,” Ryeo’h muttered and leaned against the nearest bedpost. “The common folk love and fear the high priest, so we’d best learn to interact with him.”
Belihn nodded. “Agreed. I would like to see him right away, Commander-General.”
Kurk saluted. “I’ll send a soldier to fetch him right away, your Grace.”
Belihn watched Kurk stride away then turned to Ryeo’h. “Now what, Mister Thalnel?”
Ryeo’h took a seat in the armchair vacated by Kurk. “Now we get you crowned and married, your Grace. Then we meet the clan forces at Le.ath Plain.”
“Do you think we can win?” Belihn asked.
Ryeo’h pursed his lips. “You would know better than I, your Grace. I know nothing of our armed forces, but I should hope, with Yllysian help, we can carry the day.”
“I think so, too,” Belihn offered and closed his eyes. “Please wake me when the High Priest arrives.”
“Of course, your Grace,” Ryeo’h replied and sat back in his chair.
It felt like a second later, Belihn was being shaken awake. He blinked owlishly and turned his head.
Ryeo’h, Lord Irai’h and Commander-General Deshon stood next to Prei-Serren Lahn Tjashensi-Obeli. The High Priest looked worn and older than his years, his thick hair threaded with gray, the delicate skin under his clear, gray eyes looking bruised.
“Uncle,” Belihn murmured.
“Your Grace,” the High Priest replied and sat down. “It is good you recovered the attempt on your life.”
“Is it?” Belihn asked.
The Prei-Serren folded his hands on his lap. “The Goddess is appeased. Blood has spilled with the death of Rakah Ys’teis. Although the Goddess demanded that Kah’len’s blood spill, the blood of his brother satisfied Her needs. Kah’len has ultimately paid for his deceit.
Belihn sighed. “My sire was not deceitful, High Priest. Say rather he was loath to spill blood.”
The High Priest scowled. “He acted like a coward, and for what? To keep the common man enchained to poverty while the clans got richer? The Goddess chose Kah’len to change this nation and he failed spectacularly. You must not fail, your Grace.”
“I will try my utmost not to, your Eminence.”
The High Priest nodded. “I will crown you King of Draemin City-State and at the same time I will perform your marriage ceremony. That should bring some stability to the city.” The High Priest looked behind him at the others. “The words I must now speak I must speak to the King alone.”
Ryeo’h, Lord Irai’h and Commander-General Deshon bowed and left, closing the bedroom door behind them.
Belihn turned to the High Priest. “What have you to say to me, your Eminence?”
The High Priest leaned forward and took Belihn’s hand in both of his. “I bless you in the name of the Goddess Atana. I have seen glimpses of the future, your Grace. The future is in flux. Your actions will determine which vision will come to pass. In some visions, you are victorious; in others, you fail. Keep your faith strong and always call on Her for guidance and strength.”
“To be honest, Uncle, I’m not very religious.”
The Prei-Serren waved a hand. “Religion and religious practices are there to offer peace to the faithful. Faith is apart from those trappings. Faith is what matters. Do you believe in Atana?”
“Yes,” Belihn answered honestly. “I believe the Goddess is a actual entity.”
“Good,” Lahn stated and sat back, letting go of Belihn’s hand. “You and I will pray now for guidance and you must confess yourself to me once a week. I will be your guiding light and your main advisor. That is a prerequisite to your success.”
“Yes, your Eminence.”
The High Priest rose. “One of your children will be given to Her Church. Do you agree to this?”
“I will choose the child, as She will guide me.” He place his hand on Belihn’s forehead. “Unburden yourself to me so that we may pray.”
Belihn confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness.
The High Priest listened without comment and then placed his hand on Belihn’s head. “The sin of hubris must never touch your heart, Belihn. You are not above the Goddess and Her demands. Do accept and agree to this?”
“Yes, your Eminence.”
“Then we pray for guidance.”
Belihn closed his eyes and prayed.