Chapter XIV: Zaahir, Two Days Before

“What do they mean they can’t do it?” Zaahir asked a knight as he left the meeting room. “It must be done. Bring this to my mother for me.” From his pocket, he unfolded his proposal letter. “Let her see that with a few renovations to the neighboring land, we can lengthen the school and add the extra four rooms necessary. They’re trying to teach upwards of thirty children to a classroom. It’s not a healthy work environment.”

“Understood, my Liege. Is there anything else you wish for me to send her?”

“Yes. Tell her I won’t make our tea session this afternoon. I’ve made other plans.”

“Understood. Excuse me.” With a short bow, the knight left down the open loggia and disappeared behind a pillar.

Zaahir sighed as the meeting came to a close. Two hours of discussion and none of his counsil members had even budged on his proposals. While he thought the school expansion, heightened naval support in the north, and the opening of a new food pantry was beneficial to his country, the older party affiliates didn’t seem to think so, and he was left looking like a fool in front of his own cabinet.

He didn’t know how else to help them. If he was to take his mother’s place in a few years, he had to be more persuasive with his people. Aldaí was the most powerful, progressive country on Earth. He was sure to keep that promise for the next century.

If he were to have any heirs. Twenty-four years old without a reasonable suitor and his people had begun doubting his dubious political future.

“My Liege.”

Zaahir looked over his shoulder. Kadar, like always, was right by his side, standing alert with his left hand on the scimitar at his waist. He and Zaahir had been coupled since Zaahir was just ten years old, since Kadar had started his knighthood, so Zaahir never had to look far for his forever companion.

Kadar’s amber eyes pierced Zaahir over the headscarf he wore to cover up his face. It was custom for knights to wear, a modesty touch that extended centuries into their culture. Their colors matched Zaahir’s long, beige tunic with gold accents.

“I know,” Zaahir said, “I know, no good fretting over what cannot be changed at the current time. Let’s be off now.”

They left down the hall. It was an aisle of gold, of bright pillars holding up the intricately carved walls of the Aldaí Citadel. Above them were portraits of Zaahir’s passed family members, his mother, and their three Gods: Circa, Tymos, and Ukrei, dancing in fields of brightly colored flowers. To his right were open arches showing off their royal gardens built by his great-great-great grandfather, and the ocean, bright blue without a cloud in the sky. The hot sunwaves danced over the calm waves.

Beyond it, though Zaahir couldn’t see it, lay Roma and all of its gifts.

“You did well in today’s meeting, My Liege,” Kadar said as they walked. “I was quite moved.”

“You always say that. Face it, I need to be better for Aldaí.”

“Your passion for a kinder world exceeds you, my Liege.”

“Yes, but those people don’t take me seriously, not without my current future set in stone. My mother wants to hold a search party to find her.”

Kadar’s eyebrows shot up. “Does she believe that Princess Lucia will return?”

Zaahir shrugged. Two months ago, he’d been left at the altar, waiting for a wife who never wanted him. He’d had a sinking suspicion that that night would go awry after she’d cursed out her own father and stormed to her room before the hors d’oeuvres arrived. Even if they were to find her, wherever she was, Zaahir couldn’t imagine that poor girl coming to Aldaí to try and weld their two worlds together.

Poor person, rather.

“You said you don’t know where she went,” Kadar continued. “She never informed you?”

“No, she only told me that she wanted to leave. That, and her…declaration.”

“Of being gender-nonconforming.”

Zaahir looked up. “What an interesting way to describe it.”

“It’s what Mohona decides to live by.” Mohona was Kadar’s little sibling. “They’re only sixteen, but they knew what they wanted early in life. In all honesty, you can usually see the signs.”

“Had you been able to tell with Lucia?”

“I didn’t know her as well as you did.”

Zaahir smiled fondly at the memories. “Like I know her myself, though the few times I did meet with her, she was such a firecracker of a person. I was very interested in her.”

“Quite,” Kadar said, and eyed the wall.

Zaahir heard that dip in his low voice and grinned. He stepped closer to his guard. “Is that a hint of jealousy I hear in your voice?” he teased.

“Of course not, my Liege. I was incredibly happy for your wedding and I was disappointed to see it come to a striking end.”

“Were you now? What a relief. I was very ready to wed her and bear many children with her.”

Kadar walked a little faster ahead.

“Excuse me, Sir Kadar, wherever are you going? I wish to retire early today.”

“Of course, My Liege, whatever you wish,” he said, and the grumpiness Zaahir rarely  heard in his knight made him childishly too excited.

He quickly jogged up the stairwell to his bedroom, beating Kadar by a hair. Normally, his knights would open and close his doors for him, always walking ahead to make sure the royal family was safe and guarded, but today, Zaahir wanted to surprise Kadar, and he wanted to see his face when he did it.

As Kadar reached for the golden handle, Zaahir wrapped his own hand around Kadar’s.

Kadar eyed him, those sharp eyes melting Zaahir in his slippers.

“You wouldn’t believe how hard I worked on this,” Zaahir explained as he opened the door. “It’d taken some meticulous planning to gather all the rose petals without you knowing.”

Scattered across Zaahir’s bedchamber were red flower petals plucked from the blooming trees outside. The candles he’d lit by himself amplified the sunlight that filtered through his curtains just right. It was exactly as he’d imagined, but Kadar’s stunned expression was beyond perfect.

One would’ve expected the petals led to his bed, which Zaahir was no stranger to, but he’d wanted to be frisky today. He knew these meetings would’ve stressed him out, so what better way to relieve himself than taking his loved one onto the balcony?

With little to no rain in Aldaí, he was able to have a fully cushioned fainting couch set in the center of the balcony. When he didn’t have a knight outside his door at night, he’d often sleep out here, listening to the waves crash on the cliffs outside, the locusts humming their songs to the moon.

Zaahir took advantage of Kadar’s shock and whispered in his ear. “Will you take me up on the offer?”

“Hmm…” He leaned into his lips, and Zaahir kissed the fabric shielding him from his soft, brown skin.

Licking his lips, Zaahir led Kadar outside and rested him on the couch. “This okay today?”

“What exactly are you insinuating?” he asked, one eyebrow raised the way Zaahir loved.

To show him, Zaahir straddled him and began unbuttoning his tunic, his hands slow in case Kadar wasn’t in the mood.

Kadar got comfortable beneath him. “Not often I see this side of you.”

“I wanted to treat you today. So many talks of Lucia this month, I know it troubles you.” He brought his lips to his ear. “Do know that no matter who I’m engaged to, to me, you’ll always be my husband.”

Kadar, who took to roaming the curves of Zaahir’s hips, paused and looked up at him.

“I know you hate it. I do, too. If I wasn’t obligated to bear sons, I’d marry you in a heartbeat. You know that, right?”

He nodded. “Amar.”

The roll of his tongue sent a shiver down Zaahir’s spine. “My love,” used only between spouses. 

Zaahir couldn’t undress his amar quickly enough.

;;

The next morning, Zaahir awoke entangled around Kadar. They’d ended up in bed that night, but between here and the balcony, they’d ventured to the floor, the bath, up against the wall. They didn’t often have the time to indulge in one another, as Kadar had training and Zaahir’s schedule was peppered with meetings and lessons and travel. But sometimes, Zaahir was selfish. Sometimes, he fell in love with his own love.

The morning Sun invited itself in in a stream of hot light, and Zaahir tossed and turned until he found Kadar’s lips.

“Mm,” Kadar mumbled into him. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, amar.” He leaned up and planted a kiss over Kadar’s Visatorre marking. It was a faint circle Zaahir often bullseyed his kisses.

“What time is it?” Kadar asked.

“Do you have someplace to be?”

You do, so that means I do as well.”

Zaahir moaned and rolled onto his back. “I do not want to.”

“You have no choice.”

“Says who?”

Unable to argue with him or technically force him to do anything, Kadar gave up and flopped a tired arm over his bare chest. His stubble tasted sweet on Zaahir’s lips, and he played with his black, curly hair that was so often hidden from him. When he was like this, fully exposed without his sword or coverings, Zaahir lost his composure and wanted to ravish him.

A knock rapped on the door.

“Yes?” Zaahir called out.

“Do forgive the interruption, my Liege. It’s Hana. I have an urgent letter from the king of Roma requesting your response as soon as possible. May I come in?”

Kadar yawned and slowly hid his head underneath the covers.

Zaahir waited for him to be fully hidden before calling out, “You may.”

Hana came in in a bow and made sure to tread carefully over the petals still on the ground. Many of them had joined them in the bath and across each other’s bodies. “Apologies for the intrusion so early in the morning, my Liege, but the king requests that you answer immediately.” She looked at the lump of covers beside him and bowed shortly. “Kadar.”

Keeping with his modesty, Kadar stayed covered in the presence of someone he didn’t consider family. He did give a sleepy wave from the covers. “Hello, Hana.”

Zaahir rubbed his tired eyes as he opened the letter with Hana’s letter opener. He hadn’t spoken to the Roman King since he left his wedding-to-be. He’d asked for his forgiveness from their child’s disruptive and outrageous behavior. The only thing outrageous about the wedding was the lack of flavor in their hors d’oeuvres.

He read the letter while petting Kadar beneath the covers.

Halfway through the letter, he stopped and devoted all of his attention on the notice.

After reading it twice, he dropped the letter and said, “Hana, schedule a meeting with my mother at once.”

“Yes, my Liege,” she said, and left.

Kadar, curious, peeked his head out. “What did he say?”

Zaahir went to pick up the letter but feared the words stained black with ink and retracted his hand. “They just found a Visatorre who can control her jumps without harm.”

Kadar sat up, brows knitting his Visatorre marking, and read the letter.

In Aldaí, they had a prophecy. They had many prophecies that spanned across generations, ones that changed and were rescripted, ones that were left to time as they no longer fit the current beliefs and viewpoints. But one always remained with them.

Their Gods, with powers greater than any king or queen, were able to teleport between realms. They could skip around centuries, take you on spiritual journeys to teach you lessons depending on what vice you carried with you. The Visatorre were seen as people blessed with such powers, but because of these powers, they were weakened as a result, as no mortal was able to hold the duties carried by a god.

The prophecy foretold of a Visatorre breaking through these limitations, becoming a mortal fully blessed with the powers of a god. They said when that happened, the world would either vanish entirely or be born anew in gold.

Now, Zaahir wasn’t a terribly spiritual person, but he knew that when fate dropped hints right in your lap, you didn’t turn your back on her advice.

Zaahir turned to his amar. “I think we need to pay Roma another visit.”

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