Chapter 10 - Underneath and Inside
Underneath and Inside
The intense smoke of incense and burning herbs were curling upwards in the air, surrounding the calmly sitting figure in the temple, which was lit only by the full moon’s silver light. He was muttering ancient words as he was inhaling the heady smoke. He let his senses be lulled by them, drawing the all-seeing eye on his forehead with the blood of the dove he sacrificed for guidance and visions that could help him on his quest of finding Tommy.
For the longest time there was silence in the temple while Adam was sitting cross-legged, listening first inside to find the inner core of his being that allowed him to step to a higher level of consciousness and understanding through his meditation. He never stopped mumbling the ancient words on a language that very few knew anymore. He had no idea how much time have passed – minutes or hours? It didn’t matter. He knew that guidance from above wouldn’t come if rushed. For the time being he let go of his confused and hurt feelings and cleared his mind until he could feel that unique trance coming.
Time slowed down and the shadows of the temple seemed to stir. The smoke and the cinder in the bowl in front of Adam froze. He slowly opened his eyes and looked behind the altar he was facing. His eyes traveled upwards to the painted columns by the back of the temple and watched as one of the shadows took the shape of a lithe female figure. She had a floating white dress and golden jewels on her fingers, wrists, ankles and under her breasts on the low-cut dress. In her neck a necklace formed the same female figure spreading her wings. Her dark chin-long hair seemed to radiate beauty and she wore a golden head band around her head.
Adam looked into the intensely glowing black eyes in the beautiful and flawless face. He nodded respectfully and let out a tiny sigh of relief. “Aset, I’m honored to be in your company again,” he greeted and thanked the goddess of nature, magic and family.
“It’s been a while, young Adam,” she said on a soft voice that rang like the tiniest silver bells, reminding Adam of home and warmth. It made him relax further.
“Indeed. Do you know, my Goddess, why I summoned you?” he asked gently. Although this wasn’t the first time, he knew he had to talk to the celestial being with respect if he didn’t want to bring her wrath on him, his family and people. It was never easy to converse with such beings, but one of his family’s secret teachings was for the new generations to learn how to do that.
“For my guidance. As usual.”
“Yes, if you’d give it to me,” he nodded with a light frown.
“I know what bothers you, young king.”
“You do, my lady?” he whispered although he wasn’t surprised.
“You are missing your other half. You finally found him just to lose him again in the blink of an eye.”
“Did… did I lose him?” he asked shakily, dreading the worst.
“Does it feel like that, Adam?” she asked with the tiniest smile as she slowly walked into the moonlight and turned her graceful back to the human. She looked down at the city underneath. “Look deep inside of you and you’ll find the answer to your question.”
Adam frowned a little more but closed his eyes and concentrated. In a minute or so he realized that underneath his worry and doubts he could still feel a flicker… that connection he felt so strongly around his husband. “No, I haven’t.”
Aset put a slim hand on the column to her right, but didn’t answer. “Oudjat has suffered already, but this wasn’t the end of it,” she said softly and turned back to Adam. She stretched out her hand as a gesture of inviting him there. The dark-haired man stood and in the next moment he was in front of the shorter woman, who still seemed taller than him. Moving around in this state never took any effort. By now he was used to it.
Her words worried Adam greatly and he took it as a warning. “There’ll be war…” he whispered looking into the clear face after realizing what her words meant.
“Most likely,” she nodded still holding Adam’s bigger hand. Her touch was warm but still unreal. “Your heart and strength will be tested, young king. Your actions will determine the fate of your people, your king and yourself. Succeed and Oudjat will blossom once again. Fail and only ash and sand will remain,” she warned.
Adam swallowed hard and nodded in understanding. “But will I find him? Where is he?”
The goddess smiled and put a slim hand on Adam’s cheek. “You ask questions to which you already know the answers,” she whispered on a fading voice, her whole being becoming more and more transparent as a breeze swiped through the temple, but Adam could still feel her gentle and encouraging kiss on his forehead before she completely disappeared.
In a minute he opened his blue eyes for real and turned his head towards the entrance of the temple, the smoke and cinder already gone. In two seconds one of the high priests slid through the crack of the doors and quietly came closer with a rolled-up parchment.
“Forgive me for bothering your prayers, my king, but you may want to take a look at this. It was just delivered by a black crow,” he said and handed the parchment over while the picture of the crow he saw while Aset kissed his forehead just made sense to him.
He nodded to the priest who retreated and Adam’s attention got fully drawn to the letters on the paper. His face first got red with anger then paled with dread. “Call for my parents, brother, Longineu and Isaac. We’ll have to summon the war council…” he whispered and waved the priest off as he reread the parchment. He said a silent thank you and a prayer for Aset… and for the lives of his whole country. And especially for Tommy’s.
“But father, it’s important to act as soon as possible!” Adam’s hand came down on the table with a loud thud, making the objects rattle and move a little on the surface.
“Adam, be reasonable. You are blinded by your emotions. We have to come up with a tactic and wait for Ron and his men from the Sea to join us. They are already on their way. Then we’ll have to gather our armies. We can’t attack or go after the southerners without being prepared. You saw what they managed to do to our city even with us being careful,” Eber said sitting by the table next to the worried queen, who stood up and walked next to his eldest son.
The devastated and guilty looking Isaac, Tommy’s bodyguard and Longineu, the dark-skinned head of the Sand’s security were staring at the two parchments lying on the table. Now both were crumpled thanks to the young king’s anger.
“Adam, sweetheart, I know this isn’t easy for you,” Leila started putting a hand on Adam’s forearm “but your father is right. Kidnapping Tommy probably served the purpose to confuse you and make your emotions blind you so you’d make hasty decisions and thus mistakes to our enemy’s advantage.”
“But mother… I can’t leave Tommy in the claws of those barbarians!” he uttered with dread in his blue eyes. He’d heard the stories. “I have to go after him now that I know for sure that along with the attack of the city, the previous letter was a forgery to buy time for their escape. What if…”
“Please, stop it right there,” Isaac shook his head. “I feel responsible for letting this all happen. I should’ve been on his side all the time. Therefore if you’d send me after him…”
“No. We have to wait for Ron’s arrival,” Eber cut in and frowned. “This isn’t just about Tommy, but even if it were, we cannot decide on our own. We are a union with the Sea now. We have to know their opinion too. I’m sorry son, but in the first place we have to think about two… if we count the Land of the Caves too then three nations’ people…”
“What if we split forces?” they heard Neil’s voice as he entered the chamber they were talking in. “Sorry for being late, Joshua got a little sick to the stomach,” he said.
“Oh that poor little thing,” Leila frowned thinking of her grandson. “Is he being taken care of?”
“Yes. Miriam, his mother and Sophie are with him,” Neil nodded, squeezing their mother’s hand before he looked at Adam.
“Sophia is a good healer. The young prince will be well in no time,” Eber smiled lightly then his face hardened again. “What do you mean by splitting forces? Our goal with uniting the countries was to strengthen our lines, not to split and weaken our forces,” Eber interjected before Adam could say anything.
“That’s not what I meant, father,” Neil stepped between Adam and the muscular Longineu. “It is clear that Adam won’t be persuaded to wait and knowing that Captain Vito and Thalia aren’t the best hosts to keep Tommy, I propose an undercover operation.”
“Meaning?” Adam raised a brow, clearly already interested in this alternative.
Neil remained silent for a second while he quickly read the parchment that contained the unreal ransom demands and the conditions of keeping the peace between the nations. Neil snorted and pushed the paper away. His expression told clearly that he thought it was all bullshit and that the captors of Tommy wouldn’t keep themselves to the agreement even if the Sand and the Sea would provide what they wanted. “We have our connections around the southern kingdoms too and I was thinking that a handful of our men in disguise could try to save Tommy. He is strong, but I doubt he’d last long alone against his captors’ ways.”
“That’s a crazy idea, son…” Eber shook his head doubtingly.
“No. It’s brilliant,” Adam cut in. “Who do you have in mind? Or I should rather ask who do you think I should take with me?” he asked after looking into his brother’s eyes. He knew that eager light in the depth of them. He knew his younger brother already had a full plan to rescue his brother-in-law and Adam was already grateful to him.
“Sometimes you aren’t as dumb as you look, brother,” he grinned sarcastically and Adam had to roll his eyes. Yes, Neil was on fire. “I’d surely accompany you…”
“Me too!” Isaac chimed in with a determined expression. “I have to make my mistake right. It’s my duty to protect King Thomas. Please,” he bowed.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Neil grinned and turned to the big black man with the dreadlocks “Longineu, father and the kingdom needs your expertise here,” he said and the head of the royal guards of the Sand nodded in agreement so Neil turned back to Adam. “I’d take Lord Sauli too. He’s one of our best warriors. We could use his speed and sneakiness.”
Adam hesitated for a second. A few years back he and Sauli were involved and for a long time he thought they’d marry one day, but then his father told him about the arranged marriage and they’d decided to break up. Since then they managed to become friends again, but not as close as with Brad.
“Or will that be a problem?” Neil asked raising a brow.
“No. Not at all,” Adam shook his head, knowing that Sauli was a noble man and without hesitation he would gladly help saving their other king.
“Perfect,” Neil nodded looking satisfied. “Now I know this is still only four of us, hardly enough to get to the southern kingdoms and then inside wherever they are holding Tommy captive.”
“He’s in the capital of the Land of the Volcanoes,” Adam cut in.
“How do you know?” Longineu asked on his deep voice.
Adam looked around and his jaw tightened. “Goddess Aset answered my prayers and visited me earlier today. She opened my inner-eye. He’s there,” he said sure about the truth in his words. He knew no one would start arguing about this as they all knew that the guidance of Gods and Goddesses was something they all had to take seriously. Through the years there were very few who actually talked to them face-to-face through visions. For a long time Adam was the only one who won more than a couple of visits from above. It seemed the patron of their country favored the young king. Adam could see in his parents’ eyes that this made them very proud of him.
“Did she tell you anything else?” Eber wanted to know.
“She said that there is little doubt about the war, father. During your reign you could keep up the peace, but sadly those times are over. We’ll have to fight. She also told me that the success or the failure of our united kingdoms depends on my decision. That…” he pointed at the ransom letter “is utter bullshit. Forgive the language. We all saw that the southerners are thirsty for blood. They could’ve smuggled Tommy out of the castle without killing all those men, women and children just to distract us. You really believe, father, that they’d keep themselves to this agreement? That they wouldn’t try to take over after we paid the ransom and granted them their wishes? I’m no dreamer to believe in that. They are not like us,” he shook his head and saw his father slowly nod.
“I don’t like the idea of letting both my sons go on such a suicide mission and leaving the kingdoms without a king…” he started and raised a hand when Adam wanted to cut in “but I am no longer the actual king who makes such decisions. I’m merely an advisor and you clearly thought a lot about this, Adam. Neil’s plan might work as well and I sense it’s not all that he planned,” he glimpsed at his younger son before looking back at Adam. “Tell me then… as king, what do you want to do?”
As Adam put his hands on the table and leaned on them, he suddenly felt lucky that he had such a supportive and frankly brilliant brother and the privilege to talk to the higher powers as it finally seemed that they were persuading the others. He knew he could’ve taken up on Neil’s offer without their father agreeing to it – after all Eber was right, Adam was king now. But he’d rather have the former king’s blessing on their mission. “I am to take these men with me and try to use our connections to get more information about Tommy’s whereabouts. Neil… I know there’s something else…” he looked at his brother before continuing.
“Yes. I know this will be a very experienced and effective group, but it probably still wouldn’t be enough to reach our goal. That’s why I’d like to take Commander Sauli’s troops with us. In disguise, divided and approaching on different routes. They are the most skilled fighters we have.”
Adam’s eyes rounded in surprise and he quickly looked back at their father.
“Neil, you are talking about two thousand men of our finest warriors!” Eber gaped and started shaking his head, but before he could object Neil continued.
“Yes, I know, father. But they’d back us up. You yourself said that you are not fond of the idea of letting your sons go there alone. This way we wouldn’t be alone. Isaac is an experienced bodyguard and Commander Sauli would travel with us too. He could stay in contact with the troops to coordinate them. You know well that the Land of the Volcanoes is much smaller than ours. We could go there on merchant ships. We have people who could take us there and then we could spread out. If we are able to approach their capital, Devil’s Hook undetected, we might get lucky and not just free Tommy but also take Vito captive and seize the city,” Neil said enthusiastically.
“That’d surely immobilize one of our enemies and by the time Thalia could aid them, you could send a legion which could attack them in the back while the rest of the united armies of the Sand, the Sea and the Caves could engage the southerners’ men which are already gathering at our borders. You know there are many. You’ve read the reports, father.”
“I did,” he agreed. Of course that worried him too and it was a clear sign that no matter what they did, the southerners would try to get their territories.
“I’d leave you, Longineu, Ron and his advisors to deal with that situation. You should stall the enemy. Their messenger will be back in two weeks for an answer. They think we’re vulnerable now that they have one of our kings and that we’ll accept their terms. That’s why they gave us so much time… to gather the goods and gold they requested in exchange of peace and Tommy. I can’t risk them killing Tommy and I fear they’d do exactly that once we denied what they wanted. Please, father… this is the only way. And even with the aid of the Sea we don’t have all they demand from us… I feel like this is the right decision and I just came from the temple,” he pointed at his forehead with the dried dove blood, indicating that after such activities the members of the royal family saw things clearer and could rely on their instincts better.
“Eber…” Leila turned towards her husband with a soft, nearly pleading look. “His mind is set.”
“I can see that. Very well. You have my support and blessing. We’ll deal with things here while you go on the rescue mission.”
“Thank you, father. Neil…” he turned to his brother lightly frowning “how fast can the Commander gather his men and give them instructions?”
“I’m way ahead of you, brother,” he grinned. “I already talked to him. Sauli’d gladly help and he said that it’d take only one day as most of his men are in or around Oudjat since the festivities and the attack. But we’ll need one more day to prepare too. I’ll get in contact with our spies meanwhile, but we’ll have to work out the details of our plan to make sure it’ll work.”
“You’re right, brother,” Adam lightly squeezed his upper arm and gave him a small smile. “Thank you for your help. I don’t know what I’d do without you and your plans.”
“Well, someone has to think with his mind and not his… heart,” he snorted, earning an eye-roll and a sigh from their mother and quiet chuckles from the men.
“That’s right,” Adam sighed and looked towards the tall windows as he wondered what was going on with his husband and hoping that he was unharmed.