Chapter Seven – A New Beginning, A New End
I’ve come so accustomed to my own company that I am reluctant to share my time with others. Lost in the wonder of my inner thoughts, it’s addicting to daydream, to conduct this world where you are God, and all of your hopes and dreams are within your grasp. I wish it were not temporary to escape one’s reality. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to leave your body, your soul drifting, your thoughts bold and tangible? Anayissa, from her journal.
Looking upon the rows of portraits of my ancestors, I never felt more alone. It was a tradition in the de Cliousa royal line to present oneself to your ancestors before marriage, to seek counsel from their spirits immortalized with paint.
Because I am of royal birth, I was expected to be honored by my extensive lineage by preening over the ability to trace my family tree to the original settlers of Mycea.
A chilly breeze rippled through the room. I clutched my cloak tighter.
I was alone at the moment, my guards stationed outside the hall waiting for me to finish. I looked into each of the blank, eternal faces of my ancestors and did not find any of the support I needed. It was as if their faces were frozen in a set of immortal rejection.
The first painting was of Daniel Rhyse de Cliousa, a handsome dark-haired man with an earnest face. A slim mustache graced his unsmiling lips, which made his tan skin–the famous de Cliousa skin–appear darker. The First King of Mycea was standing erect in his portrait. The lavish bearings in the background spoke of his wealth. But the portrait next to his, of his cousin Lucian Rhyse Bastille, was superior to his in every possible way. The frame was ornate, the oils used for the paint finer, each stroke smoother, the attention to detail masterful, the portrait was an artistic splendor–so fine one could even say that it was wrought from one of the Fey than the hands of a mortal. General Lucian Rhyse Bastille, or General Luc, was painted in an upright position, but it was a position of purpose in his honorable military garb. It was those small details that revealed that despite Daniel bearing the coveted title, it was Lucian that had won the hearts and love of the majority.
After a few more minutes, I decided I was finished conversing with the dead and walked down the hall. The soft tapping of my slippers and the whisper of the hem of my wedding dress were the only sounds. On the other side of the castle, everyone would be seated now, waiting for me. Waiting for to save them.
The desire to flee was almost stifling.
“I am ready,” I called out under the archway.
I heard the clink of a sword, and then one of the guards stationed outside approached me.
It was him. My mouth was dry, and my heart began to beat too quickly.
Sir Fredrick, the young man I kissed earlier this summer.
It had been a rash decision followed by the quaking loneliness inside of me that took reign. At that moment, when I reached up and pressed my lips to his, I felt like I was in control of my own destiny.
The russet-haired guard nodded to me before saying, “Your Highness. I will escort you to the atrium.”
“Thank you, Sir Fredrick.”
We walked side-by-side down the hallway, and I could not help but look at him from my peripheral. A strong, broad face. Wavy russet hair with hints of copper highlights from the training he does outside. His eyes were dark brown, and I remember how they darkened with desire when I kissed him. I also remember them widening in shock and fear when I stepped back.
He was three years my senior, but I never felt the rift between our ages when we connected earlier this year. He had just been appointed as one of my personal guards, and with one look of the handsome guard, I found any excuse to talk to him alone. Laugh with him. Accidentally brush against him. Remove imaginary lint off his lapels. I felt a kinship with him that I only shared with my cousin Caleb.
I was not around many men, and my own cousins and relation only conversed with me during formal occasions, so this friendship I had with Fredrick was special to me. I marveled at it at times, took spare paper, and wrote silly love poems about him. And at night, I dreamed about him. I imagined him lying beside me on the bed, his hands in my hair as he worshipped me with his lips.
I blame it being one of the hottest, most humid Swentaa days when I kissed him.
There had been no way to escape the heat, only to bear it and hope not to faint. The guards were sloppy that day, so it had been easy to slip from them with Fredrick in tow. We had taken two horses and rode to the lake and sat beneath a tree. I remember watching with admiration as he untucked his shirt from his breeches, and I saw a slice of his brown skin.
He must have felt my eyes because he looked up and caught my flush.
This is infatuation, I thought as I saw him caress me with his eyes. My senses were heightened, and I could feel every part of my body–to the blood pumping through my bloodstream, every pulsing beat of my heart, the slight quivering of my hands, and my eyes became so focused I believed I could feel it even though we were sitting feet apart.
It was absolutely thrilling. And under the fan of the tree, I bravely leaned over and pressed my lips against his.
This feeling…it was new. It was overwhelming, but it did not hurt; it blossomed inside me until I could not think of anything other than his lips.
It was a distraction, I thought, a way to escape my reality for a moment until I come back crashing down.
It was cruel for me to kiss him; I knew this now.
I was a royal princess who was to remain a virgin and never be alone and unchaperoned with a man, especially a man who had no title. I risked everything for a moment of sophomoric bliss.
And at that moment, Fredrick must have thought the same thing because he ripped himself from my embrace.
It was like I drew a knife on him with how he reacted.
He was shaking and begging like a condemned man. Backing up from me, he launched himself on his feet and said, “Ana–princess, please! We cannot let your father know. Anyone know. I will be punished. Jailed. Killed even.” His voice was shrill with the last statement.
I watched as he ran his hands through his hair, his hands were shaking so much the russet strands fell across his forehead in disarray.
With as much dignity I could muster, which was not that much, I stood up as well and headed toward our horses.
And when we made it home, I locked myself in my room and cried myself pathetically to sleep.
But the next morning, I no longer felt sad and humiliated, but instead, there was this burning anger.
What kind of man is he, I thought. He was branded a coward in my eyes since that day. He was not wholly innocent in this. He had flirted with me on occasion, and yet it was him who looked at me as if I was at fault.
He was supposed to be one of the brave knights of legend; the thought ran across my mind now as I glanced once more at him.
But as my ire cooled as we passed by one of the windows, the full moon against a backdrop of the purest black. The king insisted the marriage would be on the first day of the full moon, in honor of his goddess. Instead of being comforted by the sight, I felt more intimidated by the silvery orb in the night sky.
“Princess.” I heard Fredrick’s voice from ahead.
With a start, I realized that I stopped in front of the mirror. “Apologizes.”
I walked out through the courtyard to the atrium. I was not surprised to see a gathered crowd surrounding the building. Those not deemed important enough to receive an invitation, but the reception was forced to wait outside. Guards handled the crowd and saw a Rhageon warrior, who was very disguised with his bare chest standing in front of the doors.
I clutched my cloak tighter, and feigned deafness as my personal guards ushered me closer. I heard the whispers of the crowd, and I should not have been surprised to learn that they were kind words of felicitations.
I continued even as my vision became uneven and gray spots appeared at the edge of my vision.
The image of baby-faced cherubs and winged angels with an eye pointed heavenwards etched in the doors greeted me.
The guards opened the doors as my party approached, and the king stepped out and waited underneath the archway. My father wore his finest garb, and when he glared at the Rhageon warrior beside him, I could not help but compare the men.
“And you must be?” My father said to the stranger.
But the Rhageon man looked at me as he replied. He was a tall man with dark brown skin, and his hooded, intense eyes reminded me of a hawk’s. His hair was braided into nine braids that ended in the middle of his back. The man wore a skirt-like material wrapped around his waist, and his chest was bare and magnificently muscled and showed off his tattoos that licked up across his sides and pectorals.
My face felt warm at his blatant partial-nudity. He did not appear affected by the many stares he attracted or by the cold, for that matter.
He bowed as he said, “Tolla, hi Ysurria. A li genrys Nortega.” Greetings, my Queen. I am second-in-command Nortega.
His bowed head made me aware that his feet were wrapped in open sandals.
I could feel my Papiee’s menacing presence beside me.
Clearing my throat, I strained to remember my lesson with the tutor.
I spoke carefully as I replied, “Tolla, genrys Nortega. A li houner’d.” Greetings, second-in-command Nortega. I am honored.
The foreign words felt strange in my mouth, but I must have said it correctly because Nortega stood back up and gave me a reassuring smile. His teeth were white in his tanned face.
And that’s when I realized the genrys did not acknowledge my father or greet him.
The blatant disrespect did not escape my father’s notice.
“Why did the king send you out here?” The king glared at the man.
Though the genrys’ face was polite and almost aloof, I caught the sly look in his eyes as he finally looked at my Papiee. “In our culture,” my eyes were wide as he spoke perfect Mycean, “it is our tradition for the Nysurria’s genrys to escort his Ysurria to the bonding ceremony.” He paused to turn back to me, including me in the conversation. “It will be a houner for me to be allowed to protect and serve, Ysurria.”
I was used to being objectified, seen as an asset rather than a person, but it became even more so since the wedding announcement. I had been prodded and poked at, lectured, chastised, mocked, but until this very moment, I was treated with respect by someone who was not my Naimee or friends. I had no words.
But while I celebrated, my papiee never looked so furious.
“In our culture,” he reached over to grab my arm, “the father gives his daughter away. It has been done in my family for centuries.” He squeezed, and I felt his thumbnail dig into my skin.
But Nortega does not waver. Holding my father’s eyes, he replied, “Then we walk the Ysurria together.”
As soon as the door swung open, a hush settled in the air. A rush of excited titters accompanied the organ’s groan as it began the “Wedding March.”
I refused to look down at the end of the altar and the seated guests. I focused on the glowing candles and the blurry figure in white that must have been the priest.
I continued with the King of Mycea on my left and genrys Nortega on my right. I tried to keep my face serene and refined, but I was so nervous I did not know if my facial muscles could follow such simple commands. It was already taking herculean strength for me to take one step after another without collapsing.
And when I could no longer ignore the man on the dais, I raised my head and looked at the man who will be my husband.
He must be extremely tall because standing on the raised dais, he was a giant. The windows above filtered in the moonlight and shone around him like a silvery halo. He was overwhelming. He was unreal.
The king’s skin was a deep bronze, and his hair was fine and white like moonlight on water. His chest was bare like Nortega. I noticed that strands of his hair were braided and fell across his chest and fell to his waist. Tattoos licked up his sides like caressing hands, and his piercing silver eyes were striking against his dark skin.
He should have been covered in scars, I thought, as I traced my eyes from his handsome, chiseled face outlined in black kohl and to his full lips.
He should have been ugly. I looked over his state of dress, which was strange but encapsulating as the rest of him. A cloth of fine linen across a trim waist was etched in designs of wildflowers and colorful beads. My intended lacked a shirt but wore instead a magnificent jeweled necklace strung with silver, moonstone, and turquoise over his pecs. Atop his head was a slim, silver circlet. A large, raw chunk of moonstone was seated at the center of the crown.
Standing before him, I wanted to look behind my shoulder and ask the audience if this was a joke. The stranger before me was not simply a man. The word seemed too tame to describe him and to couple him with the other men in my life that I knew would be undeniably absurd. And offensive to the king.
He was epic. He was the story of legends. His name carried weight, and his appearance…could stop anyone’s breath.
And as I stepped up the dais and stood next to him, I never felt more foolish. I was tall for a woman, much to Papiee’s dismay, but the king was at least another foot taller.
There was no modicum of doubt that he was a warrior. The ropes of muscles, the crackling energy around him that warned those not to mess with him, it was this deadly air around him that only one could achieve if they were born and bred on the battlefield.
The otherness about him was too intimidating. It was like standing next to a god and not a mere mortal. I slowly turned my head and met his silver eyes. They were otherworldly eyes, and I did not find kindness with them, only the eyes of a predator sizing up their prey.
He was not the suitor illustrated in storybooks; he was an epic warrior who would burn down your castle for kindling.
Lyceria’s Chosen was another of his monikers. He was indeed the moon goddess chosen. From the top of his bone-white hair, his silver eyes, and deadly aura, I could not help but feel so mortal. And to be reminded of one’s mortality is to be afraid.