Chapter VI: The Goddess’ Touch

            On the day of Belihn’s coronation a blizzard swept through Draemin City, blanketing the city in white.  Outside the castle walls, the wind howled and moaned.  The wind could be heard even though the thick brick walls and glass paned windows and doors.  Windows and porch doors rattled. The grounds quickly became buried in snowdrifts.  The skies and the sun were hidden behind thick clouds and the day had a twilight quality.  Servants hurried to light fires in fireplaces, lighting torches along hallways.  The more superstitious wondered at the storm’s timing and whispered among themselves.  Was the Goddess making a statement?  Was She displeased?

            Belihn wondered about that, too, as he dressed in black velvet and silk for his coronation and marriage.  

            Prei-Serren Lahn Tjashensi-Obeli, being in residence, came to Belihn’s suites to assure him.

            “Pay the storm no heed,” he told the young king.  “Sometimes the Goddess leaves nature alone.  I’ve received no dire warning or displeasure in my dreams.”

            Belihn sighed.  “It’s hard to know if I am doing the right thing, Uncle.”

            The High Priest waved a hand.  “You have me to guide you, son.  She is pleased, as long as you keep your promises.”

            “I will, Sir.”

            The Prei-Serren patted his arm.  “Good then.  Your coronation will be modestly attended, I daresay.  No one will be able to travel here through that blizzard.”

            “That’s fine, Sir.”

            “Then we’ll head down to the Throne Room.  Come, child.”

            Four guards led the way down the hallway to the northeast tower and down the tower stairs to the ground floor, six guards bringing up the rear.  As they neared the Throne Room, Belihn heard the din of many voices in excited conversation.  The Great Hall doors leading to the bailey had been closed against the storm.  The hall was icy but well lit with torches.  

            As the procession neared the Throne Room doors, Belihn noticed that the gathering had spilled out into the hallway.  A hush fell over the congregation in the hall and spread into the room as the attendees noticed the High Priest and the procession of guards.  The gathering parted to allow them entrance into the crowded Throne Room.  The silence was deafening as they proceeded through the throng of lords and commoners, their footfalls echoing as their heels clipped along the marble floor.  A long table had been set up at the front of the room, near the base of the throne steps.  The table was covered in white satin that gleamed in the light from the many torches and the candle chandelier.  On the table were two tall, thick white candles in gold holders, a gold goblet studded with precious jewels, a gold wine decanter, a silver knife with a gem encrusted handle, and a closed jewelry case.  Despite the stillness of the air, the candles on the table hissed, their flames swaying.  

            The High Priest went to stand on the other side of the table, Belihn at his left, and faced the congregation.

            “We are here for Her pleasure and will,” Lahn stated without preamble, his voice carrying easily in the stillness.  “To found a new clan and dynasty, the Stait-Ekesj clan.  To marry Draemin City-State to her sister, Yllysia.  To correct errors and keep promises.  Those who oppose Her will do so at their peril.”  He turned to Belihn.  “Belihn Stait-Ekesj, do you vow to do Her bidding and obey Her in all things?”

            Belihn went down on one knee before the High Priest.  “I do, your Holiness.”

            Lahn placed his hand on Belihn’s head.  He closed his eyes and began to pray in a language Belihn did not recognize.  As Belihn watched, the High Priest’s body began to glow.  People gasped and began to whisper, their voices tinged with fear and awe.  A warmth filled Belihn, tingling along his nerve endings.  His eyes slid closed.  

            There were gasps and faint screams, but Belihn’s eyes remained closed as a lethargy filled him.  Then a burning sensation began in his groin.  He squirmed as the heat grew until he felt he was on fire.  Behind his eyelids, he saw the fierce visage of an impossibly beautiful woman.  She was dressed in gold armor and held a jewel encrusted shield and a gold lance.  She pointed the lance at his groin and speared him.  Distantly, he heard screams.  The fire seemed to be eating him from the inside out.   His nose smelled blood and burnt flesh.  

            A long time later, his eyes blinked open and he found himself on his back on the marble floor.  His body ached and thrummed as the burning sensation slowly faded.  Lahn knelt beside him and helped him to rise.

            “Your loins have been blessed,” the High Priest announced to the room.  “Your seed is the future and the grace of Her will. The past has been cleansed.”

            The Prei-Serren raised the silver knife.  “Bring forth the brides.”

            Emira’h and Alona were led forward by Yllysian guards.  They were dressed in white satins and silk, their hair piled upon their heads and held in place by jeweled pins.  Emira’h’s blue skin tone seemed darker against the pale dress, her slender arms bare, her generous breasts pressed up by her tight bodice.  She wore wristlets of sapphire, topaz and blue opals to signify Yllysia.  Every one of her slender fingers had a sapphire embedded gold or silver ring.  She wore a gold circlet with a large sapphire on her head.  

            Alona was dressed more simply, her dress hugging her slender body in marked contrast to Emira’h’s wide skirts and long train.  Alona’s dress had long sleeves that hugged her slim arms and glittered off-white with pearls.  The neck of her dress rode high along her neck, brushing her earlobes.  Her black hair was pinned in place by pins studded with pearls.  

            They looked beautiful, if awestruck and slightly fearful.  

            The holy man stepped up to Emira’h first.  He placed a hand on her belly and closed his eyes.  He began to pray over her womb.  As Belihn watched, slightly dazed still by his ordeal, the High Priest began to glow and then Emira’h as well. The High Priest took the girl’s right hand and cut with the knife along the palm of her hand.  She gasped but stood still as Lahn turned to set the knife down and pick up the golden goblet.  He turned her hand around and allowed a few drops of her blood to fall into the goblet.  He then performed the same rite with Alona.  Finally, he turned to Belihn, cutting into the flesh of his left hand and allowing the blood to mingle with the women’s blood in the goblet.  Lahn then set the goblet on the table, uncorked the decanter and poured red wine into the goblet.  He raised the cup over his head and prayed.  He began to glow.  When he opened his eyes, the gray of his pupils were bright gold.

            “Behold the future!” he cried.

            He turned to Belihn.  “Drink of your blood, which has been consecrated.”

            Belihn took the cup and took a mouthful.

            Then the High Priest turned to Emira’h so she could drink.  Finally, Alona was given the cup.

            Lahn then opened the jewelry case and removed a gold sol’eka bracelet and ring, turning to Belihn to fasten it at his left wrist, fitting the ring onto his middle finger.  Belihn looked down at the bracelet and ring, a thin gold chain connecting connecting them.  The bracelet was studded with small sapphires and emeralds, the sapphires signifying Yllysia and the emerald the jewel of Draemin City-State.  He watched as his wives were bound to him through the bracelets.

            When the High Priest finished binding the final sol’eka, he turned to the congregation.  “Behold, the marriage of nations, the birth of a new clan, the promise of the future!  I pronounce this marriage bound in the name of Holy Atana.”

            A commotion at the back of the room drew Belihn’s eyes.  He saw a man raise and incendiary device–it looked like a bottle stuffed with a cloth afire–and throw it at the middle of the congregation.  Screams erupted as the device flew towards the front of the room and exploded, releasing burning oil.  Clothing caught fire.  People screamed, pushing to get away.  The more levelheaded removed tunics and attempted to douse the flames.  Yllysian guards surrounded Belihn, his wives and the High Priest.  

            Belihn kept his eyes on the man who had thrown the device as he was about to throw another one, when a guard tackled him to the ground, then Belihn lost sight of them.  People trampled over each other in a panic, spilling out into the Great Hall.  Another device was thrown.  It exploded in midair and spilled burning oil everywhere.  A rage filled Belihn.  As he was herded towards the gold curtain leading to the War Room, he looked over his shoulder and saw two more men tackled to the ground by Yllysian guards.  

            Once in the War Room, the soldier in Belihn took over.

            “Detain every criminal,” he told the nearest guard.  “I will have them interrogated.”

            The guard brought his fist to his chest and bowed.  “Right away, your Majesty.”

            Alona was sobbing.  

            Belihn went to her and gathered her gently into his arms.  “I’m sorry you had to see that, picu.”

            She shook her head and pulled back.  “Why, Belihn?  Why do they oppose you so?”

            He caressed her pale cheek.  “Take you pick, Alona.  I wish to do away with caste laws, and I have just united Draemin City-State to our ancient enemy, Yllysia.”

            She kept shaking her head.  “I just don’t understand this level of hate!”

            The Prei-Serren took a shaky breath and released it.  “She is most displeased.”

            Belihn turned to the older man.  “What does that mean, Holy One?”

            “She will punish the clans, your Majesty,” the other replied.  “Although the culmination of the upcoming battle is unknown, She will punish the clans.”

            Belihn took a step towards him.  “How?”

            The Prei-Serren gave a mirthless smile.  “It won’t touch your clan or any that support you.  More I cannot say.”

            Belihn sighed.  “I see.”  He turned to Emira’h.  The girl was pale, but she straightened her back when she felt his gaze upon her.  She gazed back steadily at him.

            “Are you well?” he asked her.

            She jutted her chin out stubbornly.  “Yes.”

            He will filled with admiration for her.  “Good.”

            A guard ran into the room.  He came to attention and saluted Belihn.

            “There are several injured, your Majesty, and one dead,” the guard announced.

            Belihn frowned.  “And the culprits?”

            “The one who died was one of them.  He took his life before he was apprehended.  The four others are in custody in the donjons.”

            “Very good,” Belihn replied.  “I’ll go see to their interrogation.”  He turned to his wives.  “I’ll visit you both this night.  I give you my word.”  He motioned to one of the guards standing by the Throne Room door.  “Please arrange for an escort for my wives and the High Priest.”

            The guard saluted.  “Right away, your Majesty.”

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