Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Princess

            Lady Oona caressed Kah’len’s face. “Don’t look so morose. You were bound to wed a concubine anyway, for the sake of heirs. If you are to rule Torahn, you’ll need heirs.”

            Lady Kahla grinned at her brother. “It’s not as if you have never bedded a woman, brother. I hear Princess Sjanita is quite beautiful.”

            Kah’len stepped away from his mother and sister and stood at the balcony door, gazing out into the palace grounds. “She is proud and spoiled.”

            “Don’t let the Queen hear you,” Oona warned him impatiently.

            “Besides,” Kahla piped up. “Rumors never do anyone any justice. I have not met her personally, but she is a cousin of yours, Kah’len.”

            Kah’len sighed and shook his head. “I know she is. She won’t abide any other spouse, I am sure.”

            “The Tjish.unen are polygamous, my son,” Lady Oona reminded him gently. “Assert your authority. You are the man in the marriage. What you say goes.”

            Kah’len rubbed his face and nodded. “I will. I just can’t believe the Queen won’t wait until I return victorious before foisting her youngest on me.”

            Lady Oona crossed her arms over her chest. “Masjita is no fool. She has been played before, but she learns quickly and thoroughly. Do you want to be king?”

            “Yes, damn it,” he growled.

            His mother shrugged. “Then get her with child quickly. You don’t have to sleep with her and you don’t have to bed her regularly. She doesn’t expect that, I daresay.”

            He snorted and shook his head again. “And you are sure because…?”

            Lady Oona sighed. “I spoke to her, you stupid boy. I explained just how things are with you. She could not believe such a virile man such as yourself is atoliy, but I assured her you are. She just said she would seek a lover to keep her satisfied.”

            He frowned. “He’d best be a eunuch then, because I will not be saddled with bastards.”

            His mother gave him a shrewd glance. “It’s a matter of strength and respect, my son. She deserves happiness, just like anyone else.”

            Kahla swept to where Kah’len stood. “Mother is teasing you, you fool. Princess Sjanita is fifteen years old.”

            Kah’len glared at his mother, who burst out laughing. “Are you going to instruct her in the ways of the marriage bed? I can’t.”

            Lady Oona waved away his words. “Leave it to me, Warlord. But the Queen has issued a decree that you bed Sjanita before you leave. So, you will have to bed her on your wedding night.”

            Kah’len frowned. “She is a mere child!”

            “Bah!” Lady Oona rejoined. “She is a woman capable of quickening. They have different rules here in Tjish.un.”

            “Don’t I know it,” he snapped and turned back to the bright sunlit day outside the balcony doors. After a moment, he sighed and nodded. “So be it then. I hope this girl deigns to be my friend, if nothing else.”

            Kahla’s features softened. “You will have to court her friendship, brother. Be patient with her. In many ways, she is still a child.”

            She hugged him and he hugged her back, comforted by her affection and support.

            Kah’len left his mother’s apartment and headed to the barracks that were situated off the palace grounds on the other side of the palace walls, between the palace and the ziggurat. Guards saluted him as he passed, thanks to the uniforms the Queen had gifted him. The Tjish.unen uniform was a deep forest green with light green stripes down the outer sides of the trousers and along the coat sleeves. A leather sword belt worn outside of the coat and hung snugly on Kah’len’s hips. His knee-high black boots had been polished to a high sheen. The trouser legs had been tucked into the boots. Tjish.unen soldiers did not use broadswords, so Kah’len only had the one sword at his belt and two daggers tucked into his boots for added protection. He wore a dark green light cloak over one shoulder, his right shoulder was bare and showed the rank of High Commander.

            He reached the palace walls and the guards there drew to attention, saluting him as he swept past the high archway and into the religious complex. He stopped and gazed at the towering ziggurat, impressed by the structure’s architecture and the amount of effort that must have gone into building it. The Queen herself would hold a ceremony on the morning of his departure. She would bless his endeavors and see if the gods decreed this an advantageous time to invade North Torahn. Great Goddess, he hoped the signs were just right, for he was anxious to embark on his journey. Anxious to confront his father and best him in the field.

            He tore his eyes from the ziggurat and made his way west to the barracks, where his offices were located, along with all the offices for all the generals who resided in the city. As the Queen’s nephew, he merited an apartment in the palace, but he eschewed the luxurious suites for an apartment in the barracks. It was large enough to house himself and his two isili. As he approached the sprawling military complex, he made his way further west to where the offices were located. The sun beat relentlessly upon his head. It was close to midday and most people, if they had any sense, were away from Malthos’ toothy light. He entered the building where the offices were located. It took him a few seconds for his eyesight to accustom itself to the dimmer light inside.

            “High Commander.”

            Kah’len turned.

            Three generals strode down the long hallway towards where he stood. They were directly responsible for leading the invading force, so Kah’len had reached out his hand in friendship to the three and had found them receptive to his overtures. They were strapping, handsome men, the youngest a decade older than Kah’len. He found it endearing how they had taken him under their wing like he was a callow lad. He had divested them of their delusions about his abilities quickly enough in the practice yards.

            He smiled at them. “Well met, gentlemen. Shouldn’t you be resting in the high hour?”

            Otar Kathus grimaced. “There is no rest for us, High Commander. You well know this.”

            Kah’len shook his head. “I know no such thing. Your sergeants are capable enough to lead in your absence.”

            Reahn Gal’li snorted. “Those inveni? No. At least, not mine. He is lazy and shifty, that one.”

            Nhove Viu laughed. “You and your sergeant! You don’t like him because he disagrees with every order you give him.”

            Kah’len sobered. “Is this true?”

            Reahn Gal’li put up a hand. “No! Damn you, Nhove!” He looked earnestly at Kah’len. “He is young and brash and full of ideas. He thinks he is incapable of making mistakes, so he argues passionately with me, but, in the end, I get my way.”

            Kah’len frowned. “You’d best get your way, else it’s insubordination!”

            Otar thrust his arm through Kah’len’s. “Speaking of sergeants, how is Gair Sech working for you?”

            “He’s young and green but he minds well enough,” Kah’len replied.

            “Good, good,” Otar replied and steered Kah’len towards the commissary. “Join us for a meal. Knowing you, you have not supped as yet.”

            Kah’len gave a rueful chuckle. “How well you know me. I was visiting my family.”

            “Oh, if I was of royal blood,” Reahn murmured. “I would court that mother of yours! She is delectable.”

            Kah’len’s cheeks burned. He was shocked that anyone would speak of his mother like that, but soldiers had their ways. “I’m glad you think so.”

            “You’ve embarrassed him,” Nhove chortled. “That’s something to see–an embarrassed soldier!”

            The three laughed as they steered Kah’len to the commissary, where they sat at a long table near the door. Otar and Reahn went to fetch their meals while Kah’len and Nhove remained behind.

            Nhove sighed. “Forgive Reahn’s words about your mother. He is just a filthy dosi, that one, thinking only with his kauon.”

            Kah’len raised an eyebrow. “And you don’t? Think with your kauon, I mean.”

            Nhove chuckled. “All men do, don’t we? I lean towards men myself, if you ken me.” He leaned both forearms on the table and gave Kah’len a sharp glance.

            “You’ve heard of my predilections?”

            Nhove smiled. “I’ve been tracking your exploits for years, Kah’len Ys’teis-Thalmar. You are a hero here in Tjish.un. The Queen’s own nephew makes Warlord of North Torahn at the tender age of 15?”

            Kah’len leaned forward. “And how did you figure I am atoliy?”

            Nhove shrugged and sat back. “No marriage, even though you were with one woman for a long time. You bedded women indiscriminately but never more than once. None ever captured your attention. It takes one to know one, High Commander.”

            “Do Otar and Reahn know about you?”

            Nhove nodded. “They don’t care. It’s different here, High Commander. In Tisj.un women are respected, as are atoliy of any gender. I told Reahn and Otar of my suspicions and was told it doesn’t matter who you bed, as long as you shine as a commander.” He sighed. “And now you have to marry the Princess Sjanita. She is beautiful and intelligent, but the fruit does not fall far from the tree.”

            “Meaning?”

            “She is as ambitious and shrewd as her mother, despite her tender age. I’d watch my back, High Commander. Women of clan Thalmar don’t like secondary roles.”

            “I’ll remember that,” Kah’len said and sighed. “It never ends.”

            Nhove grinned strong white teeth. “Not for the powerful, my friend. Not for the powerful.”

            Later that evening, Kah’len was summoned by Princess Sjanita to her apartment. Kah’len, who had been expecting the summons, bathed and dressed with care and left his two isili with an order that they retire for the evening, for Kah’len had an inkling he would be gone for hours.

            He made his way through the early evening gloom down the military complex to the religious complex, where he turned north, the ziggurat at his back. He could see the torchlights of priests making their way up the ramp to the temple at the apex of the structure. The palace walls were lit by guards carrying oil lamps along the ramparts. The gates were closed. Four guards stood on the outside of the gates and called halt as he approached.

            The head guard held up his oil lamp. “High Commander. It’s late.”

            “I’ve been summoned.”

            “Yes, sir,” the guard said. “Use this door next to the gates.”

            Kah’len had not seen the hidden door until it swung open and then he was stepping into a long narrow passageway that deposit him in the garden itself. The fragrances from the garden mingled with the dusty smell of the day past. Kah’len made his way down a walkway to the palace steps, where he was stopped again and questioned. By the time he made it into the palace proper, a good half hour had passed. He then had to ask directions to the princess’s apartments and was escorted by an isili up the sweeping marble stairwell to the second floor. Once on the second floor, the isili led Kah’len to the left down a butter yellow hallway with mustard tapestries on the walls. At the end of the hallway was a closed window. The doors were wide and tall and pale yellow with gold knockers and handles. The isili led him to a door on the left and used the gold knocker to announce their arrival. Another isili answered the door.

            The isili bowed to one another and spoke rapidly in their ancient language. Then the isili who had escorted Kah’len turned to him and bowed.

            “Her Highness is expecting you, High Commander. Good evening to you.”

            The Princess’ isili bowed and stepped back to allow him entrance.

            The room Kah’len entered into was opulent with gold tones. A white marble floor gleamed from the light from oil lamps positioned around the room. The furniture was white and the cushions on the sofas and armchairs were gold and silver. Incense burners hung from the ceiling and countless candles glittered around the room.

            The Princess rose from the loveseat where she had been sitting.

            Kah’len ran his eyes over her. She was indeed beautiful, with a high, clear forehead and oval features. Her copper colored hair was done in tight curls and piled high upon her head. Pearls adorned her hair and she wore a pale green dress that fell to the floor. Her slender shoulders were bare and her bodice dipped to show a small, pert bosom. Her large green eyes watched him with a frank, calculating gaze that threatened to unman him. She had the gaze of someone much older than her fifteen years.

            Her full lips curved up in a smile and she curtsied. “Welcome, High Commander. I am Sjanita Thalmar, your cousin.”

            He strode to where she stood and she gave him her hand. He pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist and bowed. “I am honored, Cousin Sjanita.”

            She unhurriedly took her hand back and indicated an armchair. “Have a seat. We’ve much to discuss.”

            He waited until she was seated before taking his seat. “What did you wish to discuss with me?”

            She smoothed her skirts around her. “I wanted to meet you, High Commander.” She cocked her head. “Am I allowed to question you?”

            “If we are to become friends, I would like that.”

            She smiled. “Good. Once you are King, what is you plan for me?”

            “You will rule beside me as Queen, your Highness.”

            “Will you marry a Torahni princess?”

            “There are no Torahni princesses, save my sister. It is not my intent to marry another woman, your Highness.”

            She lifted her chin. “But it is your intent to marry a man?”

            “I made a pact with South Torahn to marry Prince Lahn Obeli, your Highness. I don’t want war with South Torahn.”

            She tapped her lips with a fingertip. “Gods, no. No more war after this one for you ascension. I simply must insist.” She sighed. “I don’t find your marriage to a man threatening in the least, let me assure you. A man cannot give you children, like I can. My mother has five daughters and four sons. We are a fertile lot, we Thalmars. I plan to give you many, many children. Do I have your word that one of my children will ascend the throne of North Torahn?”

            Kah’len cleared his throat. “You are very confident that I will win.”

            She waved away his words with a dismissive hand. “I have no doubts. I’ve followed your career, High Commander. I have always wished I had been born a man, so I could fight battles, too.”

            “My mother will be leading one of the companies under my direct command.”

            She perked up. “Truly? Oh, Aunt Oona is such a brave, fearless woman! I wish I had her courage.”

            “Once we are married, you will become valuable to my regime. If I fall, you will rule.”

            She sobered. “Such an event could lead to war. The Torahni of North Torahn are not fond of strangers, are they?”

            “That will change under my rule, your Highness. I assure you.”

            “Good,” she assured him and sighed. “The rumors have always been that you are atoliy. Are these rumors true?”

            “Yes. But let me assure you, I will be a good husband to you, your Highness.”

            She lifted her chin again. “Yes, you will be, High Commander. Luckily for you, I’m not overly fond of sex.”

            He smoothed his features. “That may change, given time, your Highness. I was betrothed to a woman for a long time and I pleased her well enough.”

            She frowned. “Then why are you atoliy?”

            “I said I pleased her. I said nothing of my own pleasure.”

            She laughed suddenly, a high, beautiful laugh. “You are refreshingly honest, High Commander.”

            “I am not given to deceit.”

            “Then I can trust you?”

            “Implicitly, your Highness.”

            She stood and ordered her servants out. Then she sat down once more.

            She looked into his eyes. “I am friends with this girl, Bi’ah. She and I became quite close and we…well, it so happened that she is atoliy. She and I would sleep in the same bed. One thing led to another and…we became lovers. Am I allowed to take her with me to Torahn as my companion?”

            “If I win my battles against my father, yes. Bi’ah may come with you.”

            She raised her chin. “Then all I require of you is children. At least five children, cousin.”

            He bowed. “As you wish, your Highness.”

            She smiled. “Truly, I never thought I would be queen. I have four sisters ahead of me, so I would never rule Tjish.un. You have given me a great gift, cousin Kah’len.”

            “I hope we can be friends, your Highness.”

            She waved a hand. “I wouldn’t let you touch me if we aren’t friends. Consider it done.”

            He bowed again. “Then you have given me a great gift as well.”

            She beamed.

Chapter Five: The Prayer

It was cold, so cold, in this infernal nation! It rained the night of their arrival at the Castle two days prior and still the rain fell in gray sheets. There was a balcony attached to the sitting room of the apartment Lahn shared with his uncle, Domio. The balcony had a covering, but the rain fell so hard, it splattered the decorative iron chairs and the glass-topped table that stood on the balcony. The rough stone floor of the balcony had little puddles of water everywhere. Beyond the balcony railing stood a huge tree with large pale pink petaled flowers and dark waxy leaves the size of splayed hands. A wind blew hard out of the north and the tree’s arms swayed and danced, large leaves flicking against the balcony railing. Lahn’s hands itched to inspect the tree at close quarters, but damned the rain!
This close to Dibasj, it shouldn’t be so cold, he thought peevishly and shivered, pulling his cloak more tightly about his body.
The fireplace roared with a healthy fire, but the room was so large, the warmth did not reach every corner.
He pressed against the glass balcony doors and watched the tree with avid eyes. He had never seen such a tree in the south. The musk of its flowers was sweet and infected the air despite the rain. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. It was a sweet, alluring fragrance.
“You’re up early.”
Lahn opened his eyes and turned.
His uncle stood at the door leading to the outside hallway.
“The rain did not let me sleep,” Lahn replied and wondered where the Serren had been and how early he had risen.
“Ah,” Domio said and walked to the sideboard, where a servant poured him a cup of mjish tea with milk and honey.
“Thank you,” the Serren said to the servant and walked to the couch facing the fireplace. He sat down and looked at Lahn. “Have you eaten?”
“Not yet, Uncle. Have you?”
“No. I’ll have a spot of tea first to warm the bones.”
Outside the balcony doors, the wind howled and roused the tree into a frantic dance.
Lahn shuddered. “Will it rain much longer, do you suppose?”
“It is the season,” the Serren replied. “Or so I am told. Anasj is a wet season here, followed by the hot season of Dibasj. But it rains sometimes in Dibasj as well, which is why it is so green this far north.”
“They don’t have droughts?” Lahn asked, curious.
“Not usually, no,” his uncle said and crossed his legs. “Will you have some tea with me?”
Lahn nodded and walked to the sideboard, where the servant poured him a cup with honey and milk. Mjish was sour and smoky if drank black. Lahn had tried it black, as he was unused to milk or sweetener in his tea, but he had disliked the taste of the mjish without doctoring. Now, two days in this blasted country and he was drinking his tea with milk and honey. Grimacing, he took the cup and saucer from the servant and made his way to the sofa, taking a seat near his uncle.
“Do you think I might be able to visit the horticulturist at the university tomorrow?” he asked. “I’m curious as to what they are working on.”
“I will ask the Warlord,” his uncle said and Lahn frowned.
It was on the tip of his tongue to say he didn’t need permission to go any damned place, but he kept his counsel to himself. He wanted to be allowed to go and he now understood that if he was false and behaved according to the mores of this damned country, he would be allowed greater freedom. No one here seemed to appreciate honesty. It just proved to him how lost these people were, living false lives and adoring a false goddess. He glanced at the milky tea and took a sip.
“Please ask the Warlord if I may go,” Lahn said. “I only want to get my hands on some plants.”
“They have a hothouse here, in the bailey,” his uncle said. “Did you know?”
Lahn bit his lip to keep from biting the man’s head off with a retort.
“I’ve not been anywhere, have I?” he asked instead, trying to be pleasant.
His uncle frowned. “No, you have not. There is a massive library on the first floor, two doors from the Throne Room. Would you like to come with me some time?”
A library? He looked away from his uncle. A library full of books of strange, disrespectful ideas.
He swallowed. “What kind of books do they have?”
“Religious texts from all over the world. Well, the known world. They have books on poetry, even poetry by Southern poets. Did you know?”
Lahn shook his head. “Poetry is a pathway to sin.”
His uncle took a sip of tea. “The holy book is a book of poetry, for it is written in verse.”
“The Holy Book is the exception,” he retorted mildly.
“Have you ever read poetry?” his uncle countered.
“Yes, when I was younger,” he said.
He frowned. He recalled liking poetry very much, writing poetry to that boy…he swallowed thickly and shook his head.
“No. I don’t want to go to the library.”
“Are you aware that the greatest poets from the South were Serrens?”
Lahn frowned. “Were they of the Order of Poa the Harvester?”
His uncle now frowned as well. “No. They were of my sect. What are you trying to say?”
“Was it love poetry?”
His uncle sipped the tea. “Yes. Love poems to Poa.”
Lahn bit his lip to keep from laughing. “What does a god of war need with love poetry?”
His uncle sighed. “Love poetry is a way to adore the God.”
“Poa prefers sacrifice to love poetry,” Lahn stated firmly. “Blood pleases the lord.”
Uncle Domio rose and returned to the sideboard, where he set his empty cup down. “I will ask the Warlord about you going to the university tomorrow. Excuse me.”
Lahn scrambled to his feet. He did not want to be alone anymore. “Please. I’ve offended you. I’m sorry. What did I say?”
Uncle Domio stopped at the door leading to the hall where the bedrooms were located. He sighed and turned.
“My sect does not sacrifice to God Poa. Are we not true believers, Lahn?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You certainly hinted at that. Serrens in my sect sacrifice everyday. They give up sex and marriage and children to give their heart and bodies to the Lord. In their ecstasy, they write love poems to the Beloved. But this isn’t enough sacrifice for you, is it?”
Lahn set his half-empty cup of tea down on the low table and walked to where his uncle stood.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, desperate for company. “I didn’t mean to say the Beloved does not like this poetry. Only, in ancient days he was bathed in blood and it was good.”
“Some say your sect sacrifices youths,” Domio murmured. “Is this true?”
Lahn shook his head. “You speak of the High Holy days past. No. Like I’ve told you, we sacrifice animals at the altar. We burn the flesh so that the smoke reaches the heavens and pleases the Lord. We bathe his statue with blood. We place cups of blood at his feet. Do not tell me that animal sacrifice does not please the Lord!”
“I didn’t say any such thing,” Domio said. “In my church we burn grain and give him the finest wines. There is a place for both faces of our God, Lahn.”
Lahn wiped his hands convulsively over his trousers. “Yes, I know this.”
The truth was, he did not see what good Poa the Father was to unifying their nation once more. That aspect of the God was about peace and children and home life. If any aspect of the God could reunite Torahn, it would be the Harvester. This priest before him couldn’t see anything because he was not a unificationist like Lahn.
“I know,” Lahn lied, saying what would please his uncle. “I know there is a place for Poa the Father, sir. I meant no disrespect.”
His uncle smiled and placed his hand on Lahn’s shoulder. “Good. I’m glad we are beginning to think alike. Now, I am going to bathe. I’ll be back shortly and we can breakfast together and perhaps pray?”
Lahn beamed. “Thank you, Uncle. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
When his uncle was gone, Lahn took to pacing before the balcony doors. He didn’t know what was happening to him, but at the monastery he had spent all his time alone. Now, two days of solitude and he was ready to tear his hair out. What was wrong with him? Had the God deserted him? No. The Harvester did not let go those who promised him their lives, as he had. He simply needed to keep busy. He needed to pray as he had prayed in the monastery, by flagellating himself until his back bled. In his clothes chest he kept his heavy rope with a stone tied to one end. As he prayed, he would swing the rope and hit his back with the stone. The stone would scrape and tear the skin until he bled. It was an acceptable sacrifice to the God of the Holy Scythe.
He hurried to his bedroom, rummaged in his clothes chest until he came up with the rope, which had once been white and now was dark brown from sweat and blood. He removed his tunic and knelt on the rough stone floor wearing only his pair of thick trousers.
God of Souls,” he prayed and swung the rope towards his back. The stone hit his scapula and cut deep into his muscles.
God of Souls, harbinger of end days,
God of Scythes, destroyer of worlds,
God of Scythes, eater of souls,
God of Scythes, consumer of lives.“
He swung the rope again and again until his back burned. As he prayed, he attained a rhythm that was familiar and comforting. Again and again, he struck his back until the pain morphed into an ecstasy that filled his mind first then seeped into every fiber of his being. He felt like he was flying, like he would fly apart, only to be caught up by the God and remade. He felt every cell of his body in his heightened state. The room that was his bedroom disappeared. The voices of servants outside of the closed door disappeared. The world and the rain, his loneliness and disappointment, dissolved. There was only his voice, his breath, the stone hitting his back, and the presence of His most Holy. In his ecstatic state, he threw his head back and gazed blindly at the ceiling. A joyous, crazed laughter escaped him, before he fell backward onto the stone floor and lay there, panting, drenched in sweat, bleeding profusely from his scrapes and cuts.
The door of his bedroom flew open and his uncle ran in.
“Lahn! What has happened?”
His uncle went down on his knees and lifted Lahn up.
“What is wrong?” the priest demanded, his handsome face contorted by worry. “Lahn!”
“I’m…I’m alright, Uncle,” Lahn murmured, fighting to hold on to the ecstasy that was already dissipating. In its place was peace.
Uncle Domio helped him to sit up.
The priest hissed. “Your back is bleeding! What did you do?”
Lahn shook his head. “I prayed, that is all, Uncle. I prayed and the God touched me.”
His uncle frowned and looked at the heavy rope on the ground. After a moment, he picked it up and studied it, touching the blood-tipped stone.
“You use this on your back?” he asked.
Lahn nodded, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Yes.”
His uncle shook his head. “Why? I don’t understand.”
“It gives me peace,” Lahn said, struggling to speak when all he wanted now was peace and solitude. “During the past two days, I’ve felt like someone else. I needed to recall myself.”
“And this helps?” his uncle asked.
“Yes, Uncle.”
His uncle sighed and placed the rope in Lahn’s upturned hand. Lahn closed his hand around the damp rope.
“Ah, child,” his uncle said. “Far be it for me to judge. Did the Ai’Ser at the monastery know you do this?”
“He taught me, Uncle,” Lahn replied, tired now and growing impatient.
“I see.”
“Do you?”
“I said I won’t judge you,” his uncle retorted. “But I don’t, nor will I attempt to, understand .” He rose. “Bathe now, Lahn. I will go ask the Warlord if you can go to the University. I think it will do you good to get away from here.”
When his uncle had gone, Lahn wearily rose and picked up his tunic before dropping the rope back in his clothes chest. He removed all his clothing and padded naked through the door that adjoined his bedroom to the bathing chamber. In the bathing chamber, a beautiful room covered from ceiling to floor with little tiles of varying shades of blue, he walked to where the spigots spouted from the wall. Exotic potted plants were tucked into each of the four corners. A sunken tub stood against one wall. Lahn turned the knob on the wall and water rushed from the center faucet. He stepped under the spray and hissed as the cold water hit his overheated skin. He turned around to bathe the wounds with the icy water. The wounds had begun to throb now that he was no longer being touched by the God. He reached for a cake of soap and lathered under his arms, his groin and buttocks before washing his feet. When he was done washing, he allowed the water to rinse the soap from his skin before he unbraided his hair and rinsed it under the spigot.
Once finished, he turned the knob again to make the water stop then walked to the rectangular wooden table against the far wall next to the door to his bedroom. He picked up a towel and rubbed it over his skin, biting his lip to keep from crying out when he rubbed the towel over the wounds along his back. Afterward, he wrapped the towel around his hair and padded back into his bedroom, where he dressed as he had always dressed, without assistance from anyone. Lastly, he brushed his hair and made two equal braids, tying the ends with leather thongs. When he was done, he pulled on soft leather ankle boots the kind everyone wore indoors here. In the South, everyone went barefoot at home. But he was not at home any longer.
He sighed and walked to the sitting room.
The head servant bowed to him. “Does his Highness wish to break his fast now?”
“I’ll wait until my uncle returns,” Lahn replied.
The servant bowed again. “Very good, your Highness.”
Lahn stood before the balcony doors and wiped at the condensation on the glass. Outside, it continued to rain in sheets.
The door to the hallway opened and his uncle hurried inside.
“Ah, you bathed?”
“Yes, Uncle.”
“Good. I was able to meet the Warlord at court. He says you may go to the university. Would you like to go today?”
Lahn gasped. “Truly, uncle? Today?”
“Rain and all,” his uncle said and laughed. “I think we should eat some breakfast then I’ll accompany you to the university.”
“You’ll come too?”
Domio grinned. “Yes. I’d like to see the university here. I hear it rivals the one in City Lae.”
Lahn was not sure he would be able to eat, what with the excitement coursing through him, but he sat down with his uncle and allowed the servants to serve him. He made a mental note to thank the Warlord as soon as they returned from their outing. If it meant more outings, he would certainly thank the heathen.