She is so right about the tax revenues. And it turned out in the next session that it’s likely to actually work out that way, at least partially.
Well, going home is not quite an option yet.
I drifted off again and when we woke we got the message that Beguyan wanted this area cleared so that everyone could fight it out at the palace and he could sweep up afterwards. People were already packing up, so all we had to do was make it official. After an update from Halla we were ready to go, and as Khora stepped in to the sedan chair it was opened on the other side by Khanum Vermudant Ke Jenab and they stared at each other. I’m sure she was surprised to see Asa there, but at that moment she came to beg our protection. I don’t trust her at all, but we couldn’t leave her there in the middle of a war zone. And that is even more true of all the servants and followers she had brought with her.
Then we were off to Little Valdyas. The city seemed deserted. Most people were probably hiding in their tightly-shut houses or fighting or We passed several bodies lying out in the street and some houses were burning, but we arrived without much trouble. During the trip we got an update from Halla and one of the soldiers. Little Valdyas and Little Solay were defended by our soldiers and so was the merchant quarter. The first two were walled and the last was a tight collection of well-protected merchant houses, so it was all quite defensible against rabble and looting gangs. We would have to hope armies were busy elsewhere. Someone suggested that we extend our protection and claim to extend a little further to the port. Both so we could no longer be surrounded and so that we had access to the port itself. Sound idea, so that was done as well. A large part of the palace guard had also joined us, probably close to four hundred men in all. They did not feel like serving the crown prince.
When we arrived the square where we had so recently celebrated was turning into a camp and the temple of Mishran was turned into a makeshift palace for our soon-to-be makeshift court. Halla was doing a great job of setting up the proceedings in the proper way while we sat on our throne and what we could. First two richly dressed soldiers came to officially join us and as a show of… brutal efficiency and/or distasteful pride, presented us with an oilcloth full of severed heads, all with a red scarf. They even lifted the one clearly Valdyan head, suggesting that it might be one of the leaders. We couldn’t tell, but I doubt it.
Next were the heads, as in leaders not body parts, of the merchant guild, Roushan and Zahmati. They also wanted to make joining us official. They even went as far as declaring the merchant quarter sovereign territory of Valdyas. I don’t think that’s realistic in the long run, though it would do wonders for our tax revenues. They brought us the trade concession they had promised and informed us that in a month or two all traders should know that there was no longer anyone willing to pay for this horror. At least not officially. As long as Albetire stays strong and out of the Khas’s hands that should do a lot to help bring this to an end.
Then we could retire, though we were far from alone. In a comfortably furnished vestry we were greeted by the Mighty Servant. Some court attendants, Pnimah, Rikhi, Khora. I wanted to ask Cynla astin Brun for advice on dealing with Khanum Vermudant Ke Jenab, but she didn’t really have much experience with witches. So I suggested that Mernath watch her. I am sure he has had plenty of experience with people that are less then trustworthy. When they joined us he and Maile were still heavily under Anshen’s protection. He called Athal master now, so he would have to do something about that very soon.
While in there we started to discuss options for Khora’s future. And as talk came up about teaching Khora how much she had yet to learn, she became a little obstinate and told Athal to hold my hand tight. We did and we held each other in spirit as well as hands. So I could feel quite clearly that when she showed us what she could do, that he wanted her. He resisted and so did Rikhi, but the Mighty Servant was down on his knees before her, literally. She had shown us what she could do and admitted that sometimes it was hard for her to suppress it. It is an awesome ability to have, literally, but If I think about what I’d do with it I can’t think of anything. I think I am quite fortunate.
When the Mighty Servant had left and Cynla told Khora off for pulling such a nasty trick on him, the subject of going home came up. I had hoped that we could leave things to the people in charge, but leaving now would be something akin to admitting defeat. Khora could go back on the ship that we’d send for Reshan and more grain. Then Senthi talked about going home. I don’t want to send Vurian with her but I also don’t want to part him from Rovan. Senthi liked it better with us than the distant rich women of Essle anyway. Athal obviously felt the same way, as he offered her a place at the palace. I think she will accept, though she did not appear to be eager to leave Essle, where her husband had died.
Then we retired for real in the Orange Blossom. There was a bath and a bed and a very black, very gifted man that told us he was the “wash man” We relaxed in the tub and the wash man offered to massage me. And it was the most relaxing thing I’ve ever felt. Yes, I was tired and drained from the battle, but it felt like all of that didn’t matter any more, and when I closed my eyes I felt myself fall asleep. I let him place me on the bed and that’s the last thing I remember. When I woke up later I felt so much better and all the strain of the battle was gone. He must have given me quite a bit of strength and Athal even more.
Then the court was in session again. We got news from Beguyan that the Khandihan had temporarily ascended the throne and the Crown Prince had cut him to pieces for it. Then the angry allies did the same to him and his wives. It was all gruelling and not to be helped. Then Ayran came and asked the king and queen to pay their respects to the fallen. So we went.
We went underground and a pile of the fallen was there in front of us. A priestess and some novices and even girls to help carry the bodies. Later Athal asked if I had been scared underground in the tunnels packed with dead bodies, but it only felt solemn somehow as I kept thinking about the people that died and how their mothers would feel. Then we went to attend the Khas as they burned their fallen, but when we got there they asked me to sing that song again. I didn’t want to at first but I also felt I should, so I asked them to help me with the words and once I got started the song almost sang itself.
I was more weary this time and Athal was holding me from the start, but I was still swept away by it. For a moment the panic returned that I had felt when that spirit was trying to swallow me. But it wasn’t like that this time. There was pride and belonging and wild joy; for a song for fallen warriors it felt very life-affirming. Perhaps dying in battle is, for the Khas. When the song ended I was holding Athal close to me in every way possible. The fierce joy and lust had not left me at all, but had washed away all of my other concerns. So I took the man I wanted to share it all with and half dragged him to the nearest spot of privacy and showed him how I felt!
When we were done we went back to the palace. It was late and we looked a mess I am sure, but I just didn’t care. I shouted out a “Sweet dreams” to the surprised court and we went to bed where I showed Athal one more time before we went to sleep.