Belihn’s recovery took over a fortnight. During his recovery, the area outside of the castle walls between the moat and Queen’s Park was crowded with citizens who lingered, waiting to see if he could overcome the effects of the poison. Commander-General Kurk Deshon walked over the moat bridge once a day to inform the vigil keepers about Belihn’s progress. Each time he told the crowd that Belihn got stronger, the crowd would raise their arms and cheer. It did not escape Kurk that more than half the crowd was made up of common soldiers. Although the citizens of Draemin City-State did not fully understand why King Kah’len had been deposed, they were nevertheless enamored of Belihn and Belihn’s goals to raise the commoner from his lowly station and to do away with the caste laws. Their hopes and expectations had not been quashed by Kah’len’s failure to act.
As far as Draemin City-State’s relations with Yllysia, Belihn appointed Ambassador Kalthos Torim Tah’duk’h as liaison, since he was already a plenipotentiary. Belihn promised the ambassador–and by extension Yllysia–that he would sign over the territory of Isahji back to Yllysia’s keeping. That would be Belihn’s first act as King. Even though he was not supported in this by any other city-state, Draemin City had historically shouldered the burden of protecting Isahji from Yllysian incursion. Now, the city-state would protect Yllysian interests in the region by providing a segment of her army to the territory.
Belihn devoted a part of his day to negotiations with their northern neighbor. All negotiations included Ambassador Torim, Commander-General Kurk Deshon, Ryeo’h Thalnel, Lord Irai’h Asjur, and Prei-Serren Lahn Tjashensi-Obeli. The negotiations were held in Belihn’s expansive bedroom, with Belihn propped up on a pile of pillows while Tesjun Othar, Belihn’s personal secretary, took dictation from the side of the bed.
“It was your sire’s wish to unite North Torahn and his sire’s wish, before him,” Lahn murmured.
“I have been told,” Belihn replied. “I don’t know how I feel about this.”
Lahn straightened his back. “This is the only way to guarantee that the common man will protected. Besides, it is the Goddess’ own wish.”
Belihn shifted and sighed. “Then I must accustom myself to Her desire, I suppose.”
“It is for the best,” Lahn agreed and gave him a thin smile. “Her desires are beyond our ken.”
Ambassador Torim stepped forward and bowed. “Yllysia is at your beck and call, your Grace, for the unification of North Torahn.”
Before Belihn could say anything, Kurk shifted. “And what is in it for Yllysia? You assist us now because you are getting Isahji as a result, but what else do you want?”
The ambassador raised an eyebrow. “If Belihn is king of a unified North Torahn, then all ports of trade are open to Yllysia. We would negotiate only with Draemin City.” He looked at Belihn. “All the Council of Ten asks is that the trade fees and tariffs be advantageous to us and that we sign a ten year trade treaty with fixed tariffs. We can revisit the matter of the tariffs after ten years of trade.”
Kurk nodded. “And what is advantageous to Yllysia, as far as tariffs?”
The ambassador grinned. “What do you charge Tjish.un?”
Kurk frowned. “Tjish.un is our sister nation. They have been our staunchest and most steadfast supporter and ally.”
“Because of the Ys’teis, Thalmar and Tjashensi clans,” the ambassador put in. “But now that you have deposed and exiled those clans, how close an ally will she be, I wonder? We are more than able and willing to step up as your closest ally and supporter. Tjish.un is the gateway to the southern continent, but we are the gateway to Kajiah and all the wealth trapped in her vast and frozen landscape.”
Belihn coughed sposmadically and reached for the mug of water on the bedside table. No one spoke as he sipped from the mug and set it back on the table.
He leaned back onto the pillows. “We will renegotiate trade deals with Tjish.un and the south, Kurk, worry naught. But Yllysia is now our sister nation. If trade is what they want and reasonable tariffs, then so be it. This is good for Torahn and Yllysia both.”
Kurk stepped forward. “I am only concerned that we give away too much. Already you are going to marry a daughter of the Ten, so that a half-Yllysian will one day rule Torahn.”
Belihn frowned. “And a half-Tjish.unen ruled Torahn, to no one’s detriment. Does it matter, Kurk? Or is this some deep seated bigotry on your part?”
Kurk flushed and belligerently worked his jaw.
“I need you to be objective, Commander-General,” Belihn urged. “Set aside any prejudices you have against Yllysia. This is my directive to you.”
Kurk took in a breath and released it. He ran a hand over his head. “Yes, your Grace. I only want to make sure no one takes advantage of you and, by extension, North Torahn.”
“And none shall,” Belihn assured him. “Which is why you are here and part of the negotiations. I need you clearheaded and open minded.”
Kurk bowed. “Yes, your Grace.”
Belihn turned to the ambassador. “Let us speak of tariffs and what would be fair for Yllysia, shall we?”
By the time everything was mostly hashed out, hours had passed and Belihn was gray from exhaustion. Divita swept into his bedroom and shooed everyone out while she fussed over her firstborn, bathing his face and neck with cool water and sending a servant to bring his supper.
She sat on the edge of the mattress as she dabbed the sweat from his brow and cheeks. “Really, child. You push yourself too hard.”
He sighed and closed his eyes. “There is too much to do, Aya.”
“I know, child, but nothing will be done if you falter and fall ill.” She dipped the cloth into the basin, wrung it out and wiped his forehead.
He caught her hand in both of his and brought it to his mouth, pressing a fervent kiss to the palm. “Thank you, Aya, for remaining with me.”
“Where else would I go, Belihn? I may be married to Kah’len, but he was ever a stranger, even when we coupled.”
He opened his eyes and gazed into hers. “Did he ever hurt you?”
“No,” she assured him. “He was always a gentleman. He made sure I felt pleasure when he lay with me; he was ever kind and respectful to me. But his heart has never been mine. It always belonged to Lahn, even when they became estranged.”
“You deserve a man who loves you,” he told her.
She smiled. “So do you, Belihn. Instead you will sacrifice your own happiness to marry two young girls and the throne of Draemin City-State.” She tucked a stray strand of hair behind his right left ear. “Don’t think I don’t know what you have given up for your principles. Is there a young man you like enough to make your lover, son?”
Belihn thought of Tesjun Othar, his secretary, and blushed. The young man was comely beyond compare, with a slender body and lush mouth. He was intelligent and able, respectful and thoughtful. Even though he had been but a serving lad at a tavern, he had taught himself to read and write and now attended university two days a week. Belihn paid his tuition as the young man studied law. Eventually, he would become a barrister and one of Belihn’s advisers. That is what they had agreed upon in return for Belihn’s patronage. Tesjun had siblings and an ailing mother to care for. Belihn had moved the family to the second floor of the castle. As his secretary, Tesjun had to be nearby most of the time.
“You do have someone,” she realized with awe.
“It is no sure thing he shares my predilections, Mother.”
She snorted. “You haven’t asked him? How like your father you are!” She leaned forward with twinkling eyes. “Who is it?”
She frowned. “Belihn. Who. Is. it?”
She sat back with surprise. “Your secretary? Well, he is a confection, isn’t he? Slight and lovely to behold. And so kind and polite.” She rose.
She gave him a withering glare. “You won’t interfere, if you know what’s good for you. Now…”
Turning, she urged the servant bearing a tray with his food forward.
“You will eat your meal and then rest,” Divita said. “Have we a deal?”
He sighed and gave her a lopsided grin. “Yes, Mother.”
She took the tray from the servant and placed it on his lap. She spread the napkin over his chest and tucked its end into the collar of his nightshirt.
He glanced with slight nausea at the food. He hardly had an appetite these days, but he would force himself to eat. He was already underweight and had trouble fending off infections and colds.
With a sigh, he lifted the spoon and tucked into the thick, spicy turies and dosi meat stew. As he ate, his mother told him Tifa had postponed her wedding day until he could attend. That surprised and disconcerted him.
“She shouldn’t have done that,” he told his mother.
“Tifa adores you,” Divita replied. “She won’t countenance marrying without you being there. So, finish your food and get stronger.”
He broke a piece of crusty bread and slathered it with soft honey butter. He said nothing more as he finished his meal, listening idly to her commentary on how the villa was faring and that his Uncle Tono’s young wife had given birth to their third child. The child was a boy who had been christened Odal and was strong.
“He looks a lot like Eda,” Divita noted with a wistful smile. “Papa doesn’t think he does, but Tono and I agree the child looks just like Papa.”
“Grandpa is a handsome man,” Belihn commented, swallowing the last mouthful and emptying his mug of water. Exhaustion slithered over his joints and muscles and he yawned so wide, his jaw cracked.
“Enough of visitors for now,” she said. She took up the tray and handed it to the waiting servant.
She tucked the bedclothes around him and bent to press a kiss to his brow. “You be good, Belihn, and rest without worries. Promise me.”
He nodded and closed his eyes. “I promise, Aya.”
He heard her exit the bedroom just as darkness swallowed him.
When next he woke, he opened his eyes and looked around blearily. His back and limbs were sore from being abed too long, so he rose slowly, leaning heavily on the bed and making his way to the nearest window. He pulled the brocade curtains back and gazed at the first fingers of light as they lit the clear blue sky. Below, the bailey was covered in a thick blanket of snow. The glass pane fogged from his breath and he wiped the condensation with an unsteady hand. A troop of soldiers jogged into the nearest practice yard. Inside Belihn, a longing for strength and health rose. He liked exercising and being outside in the elements. He cursed under his breath and dropped the curtain, turning back to the overly warm room. With a sigh, he made his way to the bathing chamber through the connecting door. Once in the green tiled bathing room, he doffed his nightshirt and stepped under the wall spigot. He opened the faucet then gasped as icy water rushed out and washed over his warm skin. Reaching for a bar of soap and a fresh washcloth, he bathed, taking extra time to wash under his arms, his groin and hair. When he was done, he turned off the faucet and took up a towel, briskly drying his skin before padding naked to his bedroom and donning on small clothes before he pulled on a pair of khaki trousers and a light green silk tunic. Lastly, he donned a pair of soft leather boots. After resting a few minutes, he combed and braided his hair. Afterward, he made his way to the hallway.
The two guards outside of his bedroom were Yllysian. They saluted smartly and followed him down the hallway to the sitting room.
He found Tesjun Othar in the sitting room, writing in his notebook and drinking milk tea. The young man looked up as Belihn entered the sitting room.
He jumped from his seat and bowed. “Your Grace! Should you be up?”
Belihn blushed and gave his secretary a tentative smile. “I can’t lie about anymore, Tesjun. I won’t get any stronger that way. Can you send for my advisers, please?”
Tesjun bowed again. “Right away, your Grace.”
Belihn looked after the young man with longing as Tesjun strode out into the hallway to do as he was bid.
With a sigh, Belihn took a seat on the nearest loveseat and had a servant fetch him his morning meal. It was after sunrise, so Belihn knew Kurk would be up and probably Uncle Lahn. He settled in to wait for his advisers and his breakfast.
He was eating his breakfast by the time his advisers shuffled in, followed by a flushed Tesjun. The young man picked up his notebook and pen and inkwell and settled next to Belihn on the loveseat, ready to take dictation of the proceedings.
“Should you be out of bed?” Kurk demanded with a fierce glower.
Belihn snorted. “Is that look supposed to scare me, Kurk? You should take lessons from my mother.”
The others laughed as they settled into seats around him.
Kurk shook his head ruefully. “Your mother is quite the fearsome woman. I couldn’t match her in any way.”
“Glad you own that,” Belihn told him and sopped up the juices from the bottom of his plate a piece of crusty break. He sighed. “Have you drawn up the treaties, Tesjun?”
Tesjun bowed. “Yes, your Grace. All that is needed are signatures. Your signature, to be precise, and the Ambassador’s.”
Belihn gazed up at Ambassador Torim and grinned. “Then let’s get to it, shall we? We’ve a long day ahead of us.”