The Crimson King: IX
Her pale skin was soft against his lips as he devoured her, and her delirious songs of pleasure echoed between the walls as he satisfied her, planting a profound sense of fulfilment deep within his being; if there ever was a paradise, he had reached it, in that room, in that bed. He loved her, he worshipped her, and it was all he could think about as he professed his dedication to her—proved his prowess and worth. She was his and he was hers.
In the wake of their lust, he just let his eyes graze her; her eyelids were blissfully closed, her cheeks were reddened, her plump lips, moistened by his own, were curved into a gentle smile; her soft breasts rose and fell in ragged, trembling breaths, and sweat made her skin glisten all the way down to the dark curls beneath her womb. He kissed the notch just under her throat and the girl hummed.
“That was—something else,” she whimpered in breathless awe.
The Vasaath smirked and sought her lips again. He kissed her slowly, deeply, and tasted her thoroughly before he let his face hover above hers.
As she slowly opened her eyelids, her silver irises lustfully veiled, the Vasaath rumbled, “We had to celebrate our freedom, did we not?”
She chuckled, raised her trembling hands to his face, and caressed him. “Indeed, my lord.”
He kissed her again, the smirk still plastered upon his lips, and he lay down atop of her. She chuckled even more, disappearing beneath him, and he gently nibbled at her neck in jest before he released her from his form and rolled to his back.
The girl nestled herself into his side, placing her head on his chest. The Vasaath slowly dragged his fingers through her hair, releasing a sweet huff of lavender. The fading afternoon light spilt in through the windows of the lady’s room and the fire from the morning had faded in the fireplace. This, he thought, was indeed paradise.
“The weather is yet calm?” Juniper asked softly.
“Seems like it.”
“Good. I hope the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon have a comfortable journey.”
The Vasaath tightened his jaw. Saying goodbye to the Vasmenaan had been difficult for him—more so now than when he left Kasarath. It was a feeling he had, an inkling, and it worried him. Something was brewing, something bad. It felt as though the battle of Noxborough was far from over and that the stability the Vasmenaan had mentioned was nothing but a phantasm.
Having most of the Saath with him calmed him some, but Kasethen’s awaiting journey was another boulder added to his shoulders. As Juniper stirred and sighed beside him, he tightened his arm around her, glad to know that he would at least have her. She calmed him. She knew her people, she was clever and wise, and she would help him keep the city afloat.
They stayed in bed for a long while, almost to the point where they both slumbered, but Juniper was the first to move away. She had prepared a cup of Shadow Veil she downed with generous sips of wine, and the Vasaath remained against the soft bedding while he watched the girl freshen up and dress.
She was slow and meticulous as she put on the red dress, knowing he had his eyes on her, and she gracefully danced to the side of the bed to beg for his help with the lacing. The Vasaath swiftly tightened it—he had done it enough times to feel confident, even though he still felt as though he would rather unlace it than anything else.
The girl hummed as she walked to her looking-glass and slowly began to dress her hair. Their eyes met in the reflection, and she smiled softly. “You can’t stay here the whole day, you know.”
The Vasaath sighed. “Well, I could try.”
She chuckled. “The Leisure King, indeed.”
“Don’t call me that,” he muttered and rose. “I’m not a King.” He rolled his shoulders and strode up to the girl and dragged her to him, pressing her back against him. “I’m the Vasaath.”
“And you’re very naked, sir,” she huffed as she gripped the arms he’d closed around her. “Get dressed and let us find Kasethen.”
He grunted disapprovingly. “Do you seek to destroy my day?”
“Only a little while ago, I was under the impression I made your day quite enjoyable,” she sang and started towards the door.
He huffed, and the girl gave him a coy smile as she left the room. The Vasaath groaned again and refilled the basin. He washed and dressed, all slower than necessary, before he left for the dark maze of Castle Fairgarden.
After a few minutes of searching, he found his advisor in the study, drinking tea with ohkasethen Garret. They both seemed rather surprised to see the general, as if he had disrupted a very important conversation, but the Vasaath only grunted and entered without their invitation.
“My lord,” said Kasethen. “We’ve waited for you.”
“I’ve been preoccupied,” the Vasaath muttered. “But I’m here now. Let’s discuss politics.”
The two advisors glanced at each other before Kasethen said, “We should discuss the current status, sir, and go from there. The Vasmenaan and the Vasenon had meetings with the nemethans every day, and they met with kasethens and Garret as well.”
The ohkasethen took a deep breath. “We have received complaints from the citizens regarding their little ones. They wish them returned.”
The Vasaath huffed and skimmed through the jugs. “No water?”
“We will have it fetched.” Garret moved to the door and opened it. After a short moment, he called for someone on the outside. “You there! Yes you, boy. Fetch the general some water.”
The Vasaath grunted and turned to Kasethen. “Where’s Vasmenaan’s nemethan, and Vasenon’s kasethen? Shouldn’t they be here?”
“They were here. They waited for quite some time, but left again once they figured you weren’t coming,” muttered Kasethen. “We need not wait for them to come again.”
The Vasaath scoffed. “You really don’t like them, do you?”
Kasethen clenched his jaw. “They are competent enough, but they are—stiff and unyielding. Trust me, when Baraam speaks, it’s Vasmenaan’s words you hear.”
“Figured as much,” the Vasaath muttered.
The advisor sighed. “But you’re right, we should probably fetch them.”
The Vasaath sat down in one of the armchairs and sighed deeply. A young boy returned with a jug of water and trembled terribly as he tried to pour the general a cup, and he scurried away quicker than a flying arrow.
Not long after, steps were heard in the corridor outside, and Juniper entered, followed by two Kas. Baraam seemed rather displeased, while Eloch just seemed unhappy to be there.
“It’s common practice, I believe, is to wait for all participants before a meeting,” muttered the stern woman.
“We haven’t started just yet,” said Kasethen. “You left before it had even begun. I believe that is considered rather impertinent.”
“Watch your tongue, Ohmaas,” sneered Baraam, and the Vasaath jittered violently.
“Do not use that horrid name!” the Vasaath boomed as he shot up from his chair.
Baraam took a step back, her eyes widening. “Forgive me, Great Warrior. I did not know it was sensitive.”
The Vasaath felt his chest burn and his muscles tense as rage he hadn’t felt since he was a youngster sprouted from his toes. He clutched his fists and glared at the woman. The name was an abomination, a mockery Kasethen had had to live with since childhood, a name he didn’t choose—a name that would rather be left forgotten. Ohmaas. Not to be.
Children could be cruel to one another. The young boy, with bleak prospects, had taken such pride in being placed as kasethen and was so relieved to be able to toss away the spiteful name he had been given by the children who believed so little of him. The Vasaath remembered the day vividly. To hear it again was like being thrust back twenty years.
The pain in Kasethen’s face was as though he had been stabbed in the heart.
The Vasaath bore his eyes into the woman and growled, “You may have had a great position with the Vasmenaan, but here, with me, you will answer to Kasethen. He outranks you, Juniper outranks you, and even Garret outranks you. Do you understand, nemethan?”
The woman’s face fell as she gawked around the room. “Vas,” she croaked, and continued in Kasoch, “how can you place two ohkas above me?”
“We’re not in Kasarath anymore. They know the land and the people,” he replied in their tongue. “You don’t.” Turning to the kasethen, Eloch, he said, in common, “You have been advising and counselling the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon, and I know they’ve been pleased with you. With both of you. You will advise me now, on matters of politics and stability, but do not think, not for a minute, that you are the voices of the Vasmenaan and the Vasenon. I am.” Glaring at them both, he growled, “Is that clear?”
“Yes, Great Warrior,” said Eloch and bowed deeply.
Baraam was more reluctant to accept such an arrangement, but after an intense moment of glaring and challenging, she recognised the Vasaath’s absolute authority and bowed. “Yes, my lord.”
The general grunted and looked around at the party that would be his advisors in this highly peculiar endeavour. With a deep sigh, he said, “Eloch, you will be in charge of correspondence. I want to know everything what gets into the city and what leaves the city. I trust you will sift through it wisely.”
The kasethen nodded gravely.
“Baraam, you will keep an eye on the schools and keep the Architects from interfering with the children’s education all too much.”
This, the nemethan seemed to accept.
“Garret, I believe you had some complaints to bring forth concerning the younglings? Juniper—”
He paused, looking at the silver-eyed girl; she was so eager to help. Her eyes sparkled, her hands were closed over her chest, and her lips were slightly parted—all he could think of was how they tasted, how they had sung in pleasures only a little while earlier.
He clenched his jaw and grunted, “You will be my advisor in matters of Noxborough and its citizens.” When the girl nodded, he looked at Garret. “You will advise me on international matters.”
Looking around again, the room steeped in silence, he huffed. “Well, advise me.”
The counsellors all scurried about, placing themselves around the small table that stood in the room.
“As I told you before,” said Garret, “the townsfolk had raised complaints about being separated from their children. They want them back.”
“You people believe you own the children,” muttered Baraam. “It sickens me.”
“Well,” muttered Garret, “they are the parents, after all. One cannot blame a mother for wanting her child.”
“There is no discussion,” the Vasaath muttered. “The offspring will have their education.”
“If I may, my lord,” Juniper suddenly said, and the Vasaath settled his gaze on her. “I spoke with the townsfolk about this. They miss their children terribly. They are afraid that their little ones are being hurt. Why not let the children return to their parents for the Winter Solstice celebrations? Let the parents see that their younglings are being well treated.”
“We can do no such thing,” said Baraam decisively. “The children must learn to be vigilant, as must the parents. They are merely the ones who conceived them. Their duty ends when the child is born. We cannot confuse the poor little things by thrusting them back into sentimentality.”
“I believe it is not your decision to make,” Juniper said sharply and glared at the woman.
The Vasaath couldn’t help but smile, just a little, before he furrowed his brows. “Baraam is right. It would set the little ones back months of progress. I don’t expect it to be easy to have to leave the safety of one’s home just like that.”
“And it’s certainly not easy handing over one’s children just like that,” said Garret. “Children can be rowdy, but seldom more than that. Adults, however—if you don’t approach this wisely, there might be retaliation. Never threaten a bear when she has cubs.”
“Sounds like you would endorse such a rebellion,” Eloch muttered.
“I certainly wouldn’t!” spat Garret. “I am merely raising the concern that there might be one!”
“Of course, a human wouldn’t understand the importance of a child’s education,” hissed Baraam.
Before a stormy row could break out amongst the advisors, the Vasaath barked, “Enough!” He glared around the table. “The Vasmenaan and the Vasenon have barely left the bay, and we are already at each other’s throats?” Huffing, he leaned back in his chair. “Juniper, you spoke with them. Do you think Winter Solstice would calm them?”
“It’s not what they want, but it’s a start,” said she. “Neither party would be satisfied. It’s the mark of a good compromise, it is not?”
Setting his jaw hard, he nodded. “Indeed. I will think about it.”
Oh, how he hated politics, but the meeting went on. It was evident that his council would rather see each other dead, but he figured they might come to terms with each other’s differences along the line. When the meeting was over and the advisors left the study, only Kasethen remained with the Vasaath, and the general could exhale deeply.
“You did well, my lord,” said Kasethen.
The Vasaath scoffed. “It feels like we’ve only gone in circles.”
Kasethen chuckled. “That’s politics. You stood your ground, but you were diplomatic. I’m proud of you.”
The general gazed at his friend. “I’m sorry she called you what she did.”
Kasethen clenched his jaw and dropped his gaze. “I must admit I was quite shocked to hear it again, after so many years.” Chuckling again, he looked out the window. “To think of it—during the ten years I’ve served as your advisor, I have barely spoken one word to either Baraam or Eloch. Not even now, after they arrived here. I’ve just kept quiet, listening. Truth to be told, I’ve only ever spoken with other saath-kasethens. They’ve all respected me.” He looked at the general. “Thank you for defending me.”
The Vasaath nodded. “I trust you would do the same for me.”
“Indeed,” Kasethen laughed, “but I would hardly be as impressive as you.”
The Vasaath snickered and shook his head. “No, you wouldn’t.”
Gazing at the man, he wondered how he could possibly make do without him. They grew up together and they had always defended one another. They were brothers, in heart and soul. How would the general fare without him? How would he survive when all the world wanted him far beneath the earth?
Kasethen – advisor; seer; “wisdom of the people”
Nemethan – teacher; wise woman
Ohkas – (oh ma-kas); stranger; “not of Kas”; “not of the people”
Ohkasethen – foreign teacher