It took several hours before the Tjish.unen were ready to bring their terms to the table. By early evening, a great procession of Tjish.unen soldiers followed their new queen across the vastness of the battlefield towards Belihn’s camp.
Belihn stood with the two Yllysian commanders, Kurk Deshon and Penoi Masino and his holy man, Neron Sanor, and watched as the procession from Tjish.un made its way across the barren field. Belihn ran his eyes over those who led the procession. He saw a young woman who looked to be around fifteen years of age, he saw his grandmother, Oona Thalmar, her leather armor hugging her slender form. Her hair, in two tight braids, was salt and pepper, although her face remained unlined. He saw an older man in full Tjish.unen uniform riding on the young woman’s left side.
The procession stopped a few feet away from where Belihn and his advisors stood. A young soldier dismounted and hurried to the young queen’s bahil and assisted in her dismounting. Oona Thalmar and the man on the young woman’s left dismounted as well and strode to within a couple of feet of where Belihn and the others stood.
The young girl ran her eyes over the gathering and settled on Belihn.
“I am Iliara Thalmar, Queen of Tjish.un,” she said in a reed-thin voice. Her large green eyes were uncertain. She was pretty, with a froth of freckles across the bridge of her nose and along both cheeks.
Belihn took a step forward. “Welcome, Queen of Tjish.un. I am Belihn Ekes’j, King of Draemin City-State.”
“You are no such thing!” Oona Thalmar spat, her scowl wiping away her beauty and leaving a mask behind.
Iliara Thalmar sighed. “You are to remain out here, Aunt.”
Oona started. “No, I come with you–“
The girl turned and slapped the older woman hard across the face. “You do not gainsay me again, are we clear?”
Oona fought to control her emotions, a disarray of pain, surprise, and hurt. She curtsied. “Yes, my Queen.”
Queen Iliara turned to Belihn once more. “This is my father and closest advisor, Commander-General Omer Ah’sai’la’h.”
Belihn inclined his head. “Commander-General.”
The man bowed. “Your Majesty.”
Belihn indicated his companions. “Tauk-na Penoi Masino, his Pauk-an, Neron Sanor, Commander-General Kurk Deshon, Commander Nosjka’h Olivaro Tione, and Captain Kalthos Gulehn Askar. My advisors.”
The men bowed to the Queen of Tjish.un and she inclined her head in acknowledgement.
Belihn indicated his tent. “Shall we?”
She inclined her head again and they entered the tent, Belihn leading the way followed by the young queen. Belihn held the flap open for her and she ducked inside, at once running her eyes uncertainly over the contents of the tent.
Belihn indicated the small round table at the center of the pavilion. He strode to the table and held out a chair for Queen Iliara.
She sat down on the chair. Her father and advisor remained standing at attention behind her. Belihn sat across the table from her, his advisors behind him.
Penoi Masino sat to Belihn’s left, halfway between the monarchs.
Neron Sanor gave a blessing in Isemi to begin the proceedings.
“What are your terms, King of Draemin City-State?” Queen Iliara asked.
“No more enmity between our countries,” Belihn said. “I ask for payment for what your mother, my aunt did.”
The girl frowned. “What did she do?”
“She had plague-infested bodies catapulted over the walls of Draemin City-State.”
Both the girl and her father blanched.
She sat straighter. “My mother would never do that, not if it would mean the death of women!”
“And yet it was done,” Kurk replied smoothly.
She struggled to control her emotions, finally succeeding after a few seconds. “What payment would suffice for this atrocity?”
“An open treaty between our nation states once more,” Belihn said. “And your merchants pay a fee to trade in Draemin. The fee will be paid to the government of Draemin City-State and will be used to help the families who have suffered from the plague.”
She raised an eyebrow. “And how will you be compensated?”
“The taxes denizens pay are sufficient for my government,” Belihn told her.
She seemed surprised. “Commendable.” She looked uncertainly at her father before reverting her gaze to Belihn. “I will pay your expenses for the war, King Ekes’j. I disagreed with this endeavor from the beginning, but my mother did anything her sister demanded of her.”
Commander-General Ah’sai’la’h put a hand on her right shoulder and bent to whisper in her ear.
She frowned and pulled away from his hand.
“No,” she said. She looked at Belihn again. “What are your other terms?”
“We demand that Tjish.un not fight against us for 100 years, the treaty to be ratified accordingly and signed again at the end of the stipulated time. Our nation-states were sisters by blood. Your blood runs in my veins, Queen Iliara.”
She swallowed; her eyes bright. “Yes, and mine runs in yours.”
They smiled at one another.
She sobered. “Any more terms?”
“You make it sound like I won this war, your Majesty,” he told her.
“Your Goddess won this war,” she said in a small voice. “Every day, I saw soldiers sicken and die within hours.” She shook her head and brought a hand to her eyes to wipe away a tear. “So many died.”
“I’m sorry, your Majesty,” he told her honestly.
She gave him a watery smile. “It is finished. I will sign your treaty and we shall go back to being friends.”
Kurk handed Belihn the scroll. Belihn unfurled it. “These are the terms, your Majesty. In a few weeks’ time, I shall send an ambassador to bring you the trade treaty. She will be invested with full powers to draw up and sign on my behalf.”
The girl brightened. “A woman? Truly?”
He chuckled. “Yes, your Majesty. A woman ambassador.”
He moved the pen and inkwell towards her. She picked up the pen and scribed her name on the paper.
“We demand blood,” Neron Saron murmured.
She blanched and her father put his hand on his sword.
Belihn looked at the Pauk-an. “Explain yourself, your holiness.”
The Isemi bowed. “A prick to the young queen’s finger and her blood on the treaty will suffice for the Isemi. The same is being asked of you, King of Draemin City-State.”
Belihn looked at her.
After a moment, she nodded.
The Pauk-an unsheathed his dagger, held its sharp tip over the flame of the candle that sat on the table. Then he took her hand and pricked her thumb. To her credit, although she had paled, she hardly flinched when the cut was made. The holy man brought her thumb to the paper and pressed next to her signature. When he released her hand, he turned to Belihn.
Belihn signed his name under hers and allowed the Pauk-an to prick his thumb. He pressed his thumb to the parchment.
“Sarka!” the holy man announced. “It is done!”
Belihn rose and she followed suit. They walked around the table towards one another and hugged. She felt frail and slight in his arms.
When she pulled back, she gazed up into his eyes. “I hear you have a younger brother?”
He smiled at her. “Yes, T’arehn.”
“I have a younger sister. Can we unite in blood once more?”
He nodded. “Yes, your Majesty.”
“Then I shall host the wedding!” she announced and giggled.
“Let’s make it for next dibasj,” he told her. “The plague should be gone from our shores by then.”
She sobered and nodded. “It shall be done.”
“I’ll bring my family to Tjish.un before then so the young people can meet each other.”
She thrust her arm through his and lowered her voice. “I want my sister away from your grandmother’s influence and bitterness. I will send her to you when I return to Da’hrisjah. Your grandmother is angry with you on behalf of Uncle Kah’len. She poisons everything. She poisoned my mother. She will push me too far one day.”
They walked out into the dimming light.
She looked up at him and smiled. “You are very handsome. Too bad you are already married.”
He laughed and pressed a kiss to her pouty lips. “And you are beautiful, Queen Iliara, of body and heart.”
She blushed and released his arm. “Send us a copy of the treaty, King Belihn. We will vacate the field in one week’s time and then sail on the Khaine River to Azura.Dha and, from there, home. Goodbye to you.”
He bowed. “Goodbye to you, Queen Iliara.”
Oona Thalmar stood next to her bahil, bristling. She waited until Iliara was mounted before striding to where Belihn stood. She backhanded him so hard, he felt his teeth cut the soft inner tissue of his cheek.
“You are a monster!” she snarled. “Using the Goddess for your nefarious ends!”
He wiped the blood from his lips and looked at her coldly and calmly, although inside he was seething from shock and pain and sorrow.
“Your son, my father, is a coward,” he told her evenly. “If he had kept his promise, I would not have rebelled.”
“For what, the common man?” She laughed. “He was Warlord at fifteen! He was a great king, controlling those who despised him for being half-Tjishu.nen. You cut his greatness down, ended it too soon, by your schemes and greed!”
“You believe what you must, Grandmother. I will fulfill his promise to the common man. The Goddess is angry because he did not fulfill his promise. I will do her bidding, even if he didn’t have the courage to do so.”
Her eyes flashed rage and she lifted her arm again, but Commander-General Ah’sai’la’h took hold of her arm and pulled her away.
“That’s quite enough, your Grace,” he told her. He signaled for a soldier. “Arrest the Duchess.”
She rounded on him. “You can’t have me arrested! I’m royalty!”
He laughed. “You’ve committed enough damage, your Grace. You’ll be exiled to the island of Bah’nah, where you’ll live in comfort and under house arrest for the rest of your life.”
She opened her mouth, but he slapped her hard.
“That’s quite enough out of you,” he told her coldly. “Mount up!”
He turned to Belihn and bowed. “Your Majesty.”
“Commander-General,” Belihn replied numbly.
He watched as two soldiers manacled his grandmother and forced her onto a bahil. He watched as the Tjish.unen forces retreated from the battlefield and back to their camp.
“What of the clans?” Kurk asked Belihn.
“There will be no peace treaty,” he told his friend. “Not until they do away with the caste laws.” He lowered his voice. “I shall unify North Torahn, by Her grace, and that shall be that.”
They turned and ducked inside of Belihn’s tent.
“When will you attempt your unification of North Torahn?” Kurk asked him.
“Will you give me your answer, Kurk? Will you be Warlord?”
Kurk smiled at him. “Yes, my King. Now, answer my question.”
Belihn laughed. “We have to recover from our battle with Tjish.un and from the plague. Give me five years and I’ll be ready.”
They clasped forearms.
“Done,” Kurk said and they grinned at one another.