To Keep Them in All Their Ways
Upon the birth of Talonka, Aurelia determined that there was a better way to infiltrate the Gamilon hierarchy than arbitrary spying and she began to devise a means with which to accomplish her goals, making good use of the new tool she now had in her daughter.
The first step she took was to ensure that she, her husband and her daughter settled in Rapha’owr, as close to the palace as possible. The next needed thing was for Wael and Aurelia to make a name for themselves in society – a challenging task in light of the Guardiana’s efforts to remain anonymous. But because of the decline of the Empire of Guardiana, Aurelia’s scheming worked, and in a few years’ time, the results the secret queen sought began to tumble into place.
“Mother, I don’t think I can do this...” a nineteen year-old Talonka said, her heart fluttering in her chest.
“The Leader has declared it shall be so, daughter. Do not question his wishes – especially in this.” Aurelia pointed a mildly scolding finger at Talonka.
“Father?” the young woman looked to Wael for help.
“Talonka...” he laid a comforting hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “We’ll both be there for you whenever you need us. All you have to do is ask for us and we’ll come.”
The young woman looked into the mirror that she and her parents stood before. The image she saw was one of untold beauty. Her stunning auburn hair had been piled atop her head, leaving a handful of red ringlets teasing one cheek and setting off her large, emerald green eyes. Her naturally thick, dark eyelashes framing those eyes, making them stand out, highlighting the shine of worry she sought to hide. Her azure skin seemed to glow as it stood out in arrant contrast to the floor-length, pure-as-snow gown she wore. Its long sleeves came to an elegant point atop her delicate hands. The high collar circled her neck refinedly, bending outward at her throat and coming down to form a point at the base of her neck – creating a delicate heart. The intricately beaded design adorning the garment flowed over the dress like ocean waves, coming to swirl around the bottom of it in dazzling beauty and cascading down the lengthy train.
Talonka took a deep breath and held it for a moment before letting it escape again.
She closed her eyes, mustering her melting bits of courage into a solid whole.
“I don’t even know him...” the young woman breathed, turning away from the spectacle in the glass. The hem of her dress seemed to foam as she took a number of steps away from her mother and father. “I barely even know his name...”
“You’ve plenty of time to learn it, my dear.” Aurelia said.
Talonka turned her back to her mother, folded her arms across her chest, bowed her head and sighed. “How can I love someone I don’t even know...?”
“Whoever said anything about love, Talonka?” Aurelia challenged, suddenly irritated. “We do what must be done; sometimes that means making sacrifices.”
“I don’t see you volunteering to marry a stranger.” the young woman bit back, turning her head to glare bitterly at her mother. “I am not your pawn to use as you see fit!”
The sound of unsheathing steel rang through the chamber. If Talonka hadn’t moved a fraction to her right at that very second, she would have been missing the curls that hung out of her delicately arranged hair.“Oh, yes you are, foolish child.”
The knife that had almost claimed Talonka’s hair thunked into the far wall of the room, sinking into the smooth, green, organic substance that made up eighty-five percent of the palace. “Do not question me or my choices for you.” Aurelia’s intense eyes stared back at her daughter, daring her to defy her mother again.
“Very well.” Talonka snarled back. “You’ll get your way...” then she whispered under her breath, “this time.”
That day – the day of the wedding of the crown-prince Deun I to Talonka – was bright and glorious. The beauty of it belying the dread that was building in Talonka’s heart over the changes that were about to take place in her life.
It was a beautiful ceremony. In the fashion of the Gamilon people it lasted many days and hosts of guests flooded in and out of the palace grounds. It was a security guard’s nightmare.
The wedding celebration passed and Talonka, to her surprise, found herself adjusting fairly easily to her new life. She realized that, in some ways it was more tolerable to remain in the palace than to live with her own parents – specifically her mother.
Her father at least made an attempt to help her when he could – sometimes (though rarely) even against Aurelia’s wishes. But her mother handed down decisions without one thought for anyone other than herself and some insane secret plan she was hatching in her demented mind.
Aurelia spoke of something she called “the spirit of Guardiana.” The phrase had been a part of Talonka’s life ever since she could remember. But for some unexplained reason her mother would never tell Talonka what the phrase actually meant. The one time the girl had dared ask its meaning she had received a sound slap in the face and a paralyzing glare that made her dread to ever ask again. The demonic light in those crazed eyes frightened Talonka more now than they ever had before.
The one piece of information that she had been able to find out in her years of snooping about in her mother’s personal belongings was that she, as the marked daughter of Aurelia would one day “inherit” this “spirit of Guardiana.” Whatever it meant, it made her shiver to think of it, as though some inborn instinct told her that it was something to be feared and avoided at all costs.
Needless to say, the young woman was indeed glad to be a bit farther away from the cause of her dread – at least for a while.
Talonka was able to escape her mother’s presence for many months after the wedding, but, as with all monarchies, the inevitable day came when Deun was to be crowned in his father’s place. And, as the parents of the soon-to-be queen, Aurelia and Wael were welcomed back to the palace for the occasion.
Leader Desslok – second of that name – stood proudly at the front of the great throne room, towering over the capitol in the very top of the palace citadel. Many well-known and respected persons, as well as military figures, lesser members of nobility, the Iscandari King and Queen, and the fortunate few members of the press that were allowed to attend the coronation waited silently in great respect for the moment that they were about to witness.
The high priest of Adonai stood beside the great throne, ready to play his part in the ceremony.
Deun and Talonka stood at the gigantic doors of the colossal chamber as they swung open to allow the couple to enter.
When the doors finished their slow swing inward, Talonka looked nervously over at her husband who looked back at her and smiled reassuringly. His brown eyes lit with happiness and just a hint of mirth.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, I promise.” he whispered, eliciting the tiniest of smiles from his wife.
“I’ll take your word for it.” she replied, moving just a bit closer to him as they took their first step into the throne room, together.
In the few months they had been married, Talonka had discovered that the prince was not such a terrible man to live with. In fact, he was a good man. His kindness to her far surpassed the treatment she had received from her mother all the prior years of her life. Deun treated her like a friend and companion – not a slave to do his bidding or as a chess piece to be moved about on a whim. For this Talonka was immensely grateful.
One step at a time the royal two walked down the seemingly endless, populated expanse between them and the throne.
Sensing her continuing tension Deun whispered to her, “They’re just people, Talonka. Don’t be afraid of them. You’re going to be their queen. They don’t want to disappoint you any more than you want to disappoint them.”
Talonka squeezed his muscular arm in response, thankful for his attentiveness to her anxiety.
Finally they came to the base of the dais on which the throne sat. Leader Desslok II looked down at his son and daughter-in-law, his face just as joyous as Deun’s.
Looking at her father-in-law, Talonka could see the roots of her husband’s stunning features: the sharp jawline, the expressive dark eyes, the brown, earth-colored hair – now graying – as well as the broad chest and shoulders that were supported by a tall, formidable frame. The Leader had a look of wisdom about him – as though he had learned life’s lessons gracefully and had been bettered by them.
“Today we take another step in the history of our world.” the silence of the crowd only deepened in response to the Leader’s words. “Today I pass on the responsibility of leadership to my son, Deun and his wonderful queen-to-be Talonka.” he nodded to the two who stood before him. “They will lead you in wisdom and with understanding hearts. May their rule be truly blessed by Adonai and may his angels have charge over them to keep them in all their ways. May they never come to harm at the hands of the enemy and may they always do what is best for the people of this world and every world under the jurisdiction of the Gamilon-Iscandari Alliance.”
The Leader bowed to the pair and motioned for them to ascend the few steps up to the platform.
They scaled the small height quickly.
“Kneel, please.” the high priest requested of the two as he stepped forward in place of the Leader who had moved off to one side.
With a glance at Deun Talonka sank to her knees gracefully – just as she had practiced. Deun knelt in sync with his wife and they both bowed their heads.
The priest dipped his fingers in a small bowl and withdrew them.
The red-stained appendages drifted down towards Talonka’s face and she could see them out of the corner of her eye as they descended to the right of her face. She felt the priest touch the tip of her right ear with crimson. Then the man took her small hand and dipped her right thumb into the bowl of blood, marking her in the fashion of the Gamilon people.
Then the high priest moved to Deun, marking him in like manner. Then the aged holy man stepped back and Deun’s father stood before the pair again.
“My son,” Deun looked up at his father in response to the address. “I give to you the crown that I have worn proudly for many years. May you guard it, respect it and use it wisely in the years to come.”
Desslok lowered the simple golden circlet onto his son’s head. The crown came to rest comfortable on Deun’s temples, letting the short bangs he wore spill out over the lip of it.
“My daughter,” Talonka looked up, “To you I also give a crown, one that has not been worn for much too long... If my wife were here right now I am sure she would be just as happy for you as your own family is right now.”
At the mention of the mother who had barely lived long enough to name him, Deun’s face became a bit sad. He often wished he could have known her for at least a little while before her death.
But all gloom was quickly laid aside as Desslok let the beautiful crown come to rest on Talonka’s stately head. Unlike her husband’s brilliant, bold band of gold, the new queen’s
crown was made of several thin, braided, aurelian bands which met at a subtle point on her forehead. The point was adorned with a tiny, leafless, gilded rose which bloomed gorgeously in all its golden radiance.
“Rise, Leader and Queen of Gamilon and all of its territories, tribute worlds, and colonies.” declared Desslok II.
Obediently, Deun and Talonka stood.
“Greet your people.” the now-former Leader made a sweeping gesture to the crowd behind the pair.
Deun and Talonka turned to face the masses and were greeted by joyful applause and shouts of gladness.
Talonka took a step or two closer to her husband as he moved to put an arm around her. The pair each raised an acknowledging, thankful hand – Talonka her left and Deun his right.
“May the blessings of Adonai be upon you.” whispered Desslok as his son and daughter-in-law began their descent into the admiring throng – the sea of bodies kept at bay by royal guards – now their guards instead of his.
As her daughter walked back through the throne room on the arm of the new Leader, Aurelia smirked. Now it was only a matter of time...