Chapter II: Conference

            The vision changed everything for Belihn.  He began to have what he felt were prophetic dreams, although when he dreamed them, they were jumbled and confusing.  He took up a notebook and wrote down what he could remember.  There were times when he would fall into a dreamless state after a vision and he would forget whole segments of the vision, but he always faithfully recorded what he could recall.  It was rare night indeed when he managed to sleep peacefully.  He quickly filled notebooks with the accounts of his dreams.  Lahn read the accounts and interpreted what he could, but he always prefaced his interpretations with the warning that he could be wrong, that the only person who could truly interpret his dreams was Belihn himself.   Belihn always prayed for guidance from the Goddess as he wrote down his accounting of a dream.  But he knew such was the way of Gods, their wisdom so far above a mortal’s that understanding would probably never come, except in hindsight.  

            He began to recover from his long fast by slowly imbibing broths and eating boiled grains with salt and honey.  It took another fortnight to build his strength to the point where he could leave the Cathedral to return to Draemin Castle to begin preparations for the long journey to the Khaine River Valley.

            His mother gasped when she saw him after his month’s absence.  

            She took him into her arms.  “You’re so thin!”

            “I’m fine, Aya,” he murmured into her hair as they hugged.  She smelled of soap and delicate aromatic oils.

            She pulled back and gazed deeply into his eyes.  “Did the Goddess reveal your victory?”

            He barked a laugh.  “The Gods do not work in straightforward ways, Aya.  But my faith has strengthened and I will do as She asks and demands.”

            She placed a warm, slender hand on his cheek.  “Goddess be praised!  It is all you can do.”

            She took his arm and walked with him down the long hallway towards the northeastern tower.  “Both your Queens are with child.  How will you choose an heir?”

            He smiled at her.  “The child will choose.  Whomever is born first will be the heir.”

            She said nothing as she looked away.

            They slowly climbed the five stories to the top of the castle and from there headed east towards his suites.  

            “Mother, you must rule in my absence,” he told her.  “You will oversee to my wive’s needs and you will rule with Ambassador Torim’s assistance.”

            She nodded distractedly.  

            He patted her hand.  “Listen, Aya.  If I have not returned before the first child is born, you must name the heir to prevent trouble.  There must be peace here at home while I am away.”

            Her forehead creased into a frown.  “I don’t know the first thing about ruling, Belihn.  Can you not leave Kurk Deshon as regent?”

            “I can’t afford to leave him behind, Mother,” he told her.  “You must be strong.  And you must not let yourself be manipulated.  Toward that end, Torim should be your guide and advisor.  Also, listen to Lahn Obeli.”

            She took a deep breath and released it.  “I will do my utmost.”

            He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.  “I would leave T’arehn in charge, if he weren’t fifteen years old!”

            “I know,” she assured him.  “I know I am the logical person to leave in charge.”

            “Yes.”

            They entered his suites and he let go her arm and sat down on the nearest loveseat, exhausted by their jaunt through the great hall to the stairs and then here.

            She sent a servant for food and sat next to him.  “I’ve sent for your advisers, son.  Commander-General Deshon has arranged for the troops to be made ready to depart within a week’s time.”

            “Good,” he told her and rested his head against the back of the loveseat and closed his eyes.  “As for Court, the Houses will meet three times a week.  You will lead the discussions and hear petitions.  You’ve sat in on Court proceedings enough times to know how it all goes, Aya.  If they disrespect you, you have my permission to dismiss Court until I return.  Do not let them cow you into signing new laws.”

            She licked her lips and nodded.  “I won’t.”

            There was a knock on the hallway door, then Belihn’s advisers shuffled in, murmuring greetings. They took seats near Belihn.

            Kurk Deshon ran his eyes over the King.  “You look like you’ve lost a ton of weight, which you didn’t have to lose.  Was the purification and purging worth it?”

            “I was given a Vision,” Belihn replied neutrally.  “I can’t interpret it, but the Goddess touched me and spoke to me.”

            His advisers glanced at one another.

            Ambassador Torim Tah’duk’h leaned forward.  “Will we win?  Did your Goddess tell you that?”

            “She said to have faith,” Belihn replied with a sigh.

            The Ambassador sat back.  “We have no choice, I suppose.”

            Belihn straightened his back and sat up.  “Something terrible will happen on the battlefield.  I saw a great beast with a fanged maw striding past the battling armies and leaving all dead in its wake.”

            Commander Olivaro Tione, commander of the Yllysian fleet, which would sail the Bay of Silence to the mouth of the Khaine River then south, shifted.  “Could be disease, your Majesty.  All kinds of diseases break out during battles.”

            Belihn swallowed.  “I thought of that, yes.”

            Captain Gulehn Askar, Commander of the Yllysian army, leaned forward.  “Could it be plague, your Majesty?”

            “Could be,” Belihn conceded.  “The Goddess assured me my warriors would not be touched.”

            Ambassador Torim Tah’duk’h frowned.  “But how can that be?  How can a pestilence bypass a whole portion of a battlefield?”

            Belihn scrubbed his face with his hand.  “I don’t know.  Perhaps she meant our forces would get sick but would not die.  Listen, all of you.  I was given a directive.  I was told to have faith, to believe.  I will do this, despite the doubt that always hovers in my thoughts, despite the fear I have for my forces, my allies.  I have to believe we will succeed.  I was told that if I veered from Her word, my children and my children’s children and unto the future would bear the burden of my faithlessness, even into the afterlife.  I cannot defy Her will, not when so much is at stake.”

            The Yllysian Ambassador sighed.  “I am sorry, your Majesty.  We are here for you, of course.  These uncertain times try all men.”

            “Yes,” Belihn agreed.  He looked at Kurk.  “Are we ready to depart?”

            Kurk nodded.  “Aye, your Majesty.  We have supplies for several months.  Half the supplies will head west with the Yllysian navy, the rest come with our forces.  We will travel to the mouth of the Khaine River with the Torahni navy.  Once at the mouth of the river, we will disembark and head inland towards Le.ath Plain.  The entire journey will take a couple of months or more.”  He snorted.  “Then the journey back will take another two months. All for a battle that may be decided in a day.”

            “It will be more than a day,” Belihn assured him.  “It will be a close battle.”  He raked his eyes over the men who would accompany him.  “We must be strong and push our forces to perform.  We must never show insecurity or doubt.”

            “Yes, your Majesty,” they murmured.

            “Ambassador Torim,” Belihn said.  “You will assist my mother, who remains as Regent in my stead.  Please care for my wives and make sure the firstborn child is named heir, if I have not returned by then.”

            “Even if Queen Morisjen births first?” the ambassador challenged, eyes sharp.

            Belihn met his gaze.  “Yes.  Even so.”

            Silence fell over the room.

            Kurk cleared his throat.  “Your Majesty, that act may trigger a Civil War.”

            “We are at Civil War,” Belihn snapped and sighed.  “I will not succumb to prejudice.  If Queen Morisjen births first, her child will be heir.  Regardless of gender or race.”

            He glared at each adviser until they acquiesced and gave their nod of assent, however reluctant.

            “Yllysia is our sister-nation now,” Belihn told them patiently.  “Tjish.un has sided with my sire.  We will repair our treaty with her after our victory.  Yllysia is our closest ally now and will remain so.”

            “Yes, your Majesty,” they murmured.

            Belihn sat forward and placed his forearms on his thighs.  Weariness stole into his limbs.  

            “Thank you all for your loyalty,” he told them.  “I will never forget it.  These coming months will be difficult at best.  What my vision revealed was horrific but battle always is.  Kurk, you will command our mercenary forces.  I will command our Torahni forces.  Captain Gulehn Askar will command the Yllysian forces, and Commander Olivaro Tione will command the reserves.”

            “Yes, your Majesty,” they murmured.        

            Belihn nodded.  “Dismissed, gentlemen.  We will meet again in the morning.”

            When the advisers had gone, Belihn turned to his mother.  “Please have Kahl Oh’nahry fetched, Aya.  And see where my dinner is.”

            She rose and curtsied.  “Right away, your Majesty.”

            The meal Belihn was served was a stew thick with root vegetables, tah’lir meat, aromatics and spices.  An atholos leaf was dropped into the stew to detect any poison, but the leaf did not change colors, so Belihn tucked into his meal.  

            Kahl showed up before Belihn was done eating.  The King waved for the young man to sit down.

            “Kahl, I wanted to tell you about my purification and purging rituals and the vision the Goddess sent me so that you can write an account of these things for your book,” Belihn told him.

            “I can take dictation, your Majesty,” Kahl told him.

            Belihn nodded.  He told Kahl about the long days of hunger and cold, the purging and purification rituals, the long hours of prayer, and, finally, his vision of the battle.  

            “Reveal nothing to anyone until this is all done,” Belihn directed him.

            Kahl bowed.  “Of course, your Majesty.”  He fidgeted in silence as he watched Belihn eat.  “Do you believe we will win, your Majesty?”

            Belihn wiped up a piece of bread along the bottom of the bowl.  “I have to believe that, Kahl, no matter what.  I won’t ignore her warning.”

            Kahl gnawed on his lower lip.

            “Come,” Belihn told him.  “Out with it.  What has you so worried?”    

            “The odds.”

            “We have a Goddess on our side,” Belihn reminded the young man.

            Kahl nodded.  “Yes, I know.  But you were touched by Her. Your troops were not.”

            “I won’t waver,” Belihn said.  “They will believe.  I will make sure of it.”

            Kahl studied Belihn’s face for a few minutes in silence before making up his mind and nodding.  “I believe you, your Majesty.”

            Belihn smiled. ” That is good.”

            Kahl blushed.  “What does all of this mean for you and me, your Majesty?”

            “We will become friends during our journey there and back,” Belihn told him.  “If it aligns with Her will, we will become more than that.  I don’t know you, Kahl, but I like you well enough to wish to be friends.  You are strong and creative, intelligent and supportive.  I like your looks well enough, but it is your heart and your mind which make me want you.”

            Kahl’s blush deepened.  He ducked his head.  “You want me, your Majesty?”

            “Yes,” Belihn murmured, widening his smile.  “I’ve seemed to have lost my shame.”

            Kahl chuckled.  “Well, we are negotiating.  There is no room for shame in negotiations.”

            Belihn laughed and nodded.  “True.”  He sighed.  “You will ride with my household, which will include my two secretaries.  Make friends with them, although Erille Asjur is a bit competitive.”

            Kahl snorted. “I’m not afraid of competition, your Majesty, but I will see if he and I can make a friendship.”

            “Good,” Belihn replied and stifled a yawn.  “I will bid you good day, Kahl.  I would like to go over some of my other dreams with you, but that will have to wait.  Let us meet again in two days’ time.  Check in with Tesjun or Erille tomorrow.”

            Kahl scrambled to his feet as Belihn rose and bowed.  “Yes, your Majesty.  Good day to you.”

            Belihn watched the young man hurry into the hallway before turning and heading towards his bedchamber.

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