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NAIMA : 21 MOONBLESS 5E1
It was her tenth birthday, and the third she had spent in the refugee camp on the border of Karikastan. She was very little when the Imperium’s soldiers came to her home in Astraea. Mother said they were bad men, and the worst type of men take little girls like her from their homes. Naima doesn’t remember much, just that her house was big, and her father wouldn’t give it up and she won’t be seeing him ever again.
Naima knew she wouldn’t be seeing a lot of people, and she knew they were dead. It was four years since the siege, and in those years she has grown. Travelling from Iyaqla and then through Quaritz; she had seen a lot. Her mother still clung to the innocence she had when Naima was a silly little girl, but she was the second eldest and had to grow up if she was to take care of her younger brother, Janwar. She was looking for food yesterday when the news had been announced of a new era beginning. This excited her, it maybe meant a new beginning for her family now.
The sand tickled in between her toes as she played with Janwar by the oasis. Her family’s tent was near by, she was lucky as she could wash herself and little Jan first thing. The nights were so hot and the dirt seemed to cling to her. It wasn’t long ago that she was being bathed by her older brother Mohammad. She loved her older brother dearly, he was the only one who seemed to take her seriously. He was five years older than her, but they always got along like best friends.
“Hello Ima,” Mohammad greeted her, “today is a very special day.”
Naima smiled, it was always a pleasure to hear his voice. Mohammad was a very handsome boy, mother had always said so. He had thick, dark hair like a horse’s and dark eyes, lots of girls seemed to like him. She vaguely remembers a girl with big eyes in a green dress, he really liked her too. Naima hadn’t seen her since the day father died either.
“Hi Mohammad,” she chirped back.
He was hiding something behind him. “Close your eyes,” he commanded.
Naima reluctantly closed her eyes, but opened them so slightly, just a slit to see from. She held out her hands eagerly as well. A small, slim box was placed on them, he told it was safe for her to open her eyes now.
“What is it?” she asked curiously. He usually got her sweet bread, he once got her an ivory comb. It was pretty dirty, but she didn’t want to embarrass him.
“Ima, I want you to know that this is a serious gift, you’re ten now. You’ll be a woman soon enough and we don’t live in the big house anymore, so you need to protect yourself and Janwar in case anything were to happen to me or mother.”
Naima hated when he talked like this,“Why would anything happen to you or mother?” she was now worried. She would really have preferred a small cake.
Mohammad ignored the question and gestured for her to open the gift. Naima took the lid from the box to find a shiny blade with a jade hilt. The dagger looked very expensive, it would sell for at least fifty Karins. That would buy them an entrance into Karikastan and maybe a home in Xaandar.
“Where did you get this?” she asked. It was such a beautiful weapon. “You know girls aren’t allowed weapons.”
“I found it,” he grinned, “It was just lying on a desk. You can shave your unibrow with it. And I know Ima, but what if someone attacks you? I want you to be safe if I’m not here.”
Naima ignored the remark on her unibrow and turned to the oasis, “Janwar, not too far from me. You can’t swim and neither can Mohammad or I!” she turned back to her older brother, “Someone will come looking for this. If you lose your job at the vineyard because of your sticky fingers we’re all in trouble. Are you leaving for somewhere? Why do I need protection?”
“I’ve heard of attacks between the walk here and Yahar, you are a sweet and smart little girl, and I’m an overprotective brother. I’m not with you all the time, I can’t always protect you,” he confessed.
Mohammad was so kind and his heart was so big, she wished she could be like him. His information is smart and wise, and the blade looks like it could be easily concealed. Naima hugged her brother.
“Thank you, I should have been more kind to you. It must’ve been risky to get this, but not again. I like sweets, little cakes like the ones in town. I would be happy with those, I am even happy with just you.”
Mohammad patted her on the head, “I’ll show you how to use it tonight. Remember when I taught you how to fight with the stick? It’ll be similar.”
Mohammad had learned to fight with the other soldiers, she remembers him with a big curved blade. He seemed to dance with it when she watched him in the courtyard. Mother said little girls weren’t allowed to watch and she would be practicing a different type of dancing. He promised to teach her someday, and now he was fulfilling that promise.
Janwar came running from the water, he was very active for a three year old. He splashed both his siblings, Naima hid the blade from his sight and laughed with glee at her younger brother. This has been her favourite birthday so far.
Mohammad pulled back the curtains of her sleeping area. A candle light illuminated her chambers to allow her to read the Unran, her faith book. She loved the ideas of Unitius the Prophet and the four headed God of the world. He created everything and everyone and he loved them all, even the bad ones. Naima wished to be like this, but she found it hard to forgive sometimes. She remembers a soldier with one eye and no ear, he was especially bad. She asked Unlaj for the will to forgive him, but he never granted her this bliss.
“Do you have the secret weapon?” he whispered.
She reached under her pillow to reveal the box and blade with the ornate hilt. Mohammad smiled and they tiptoed outside to the moonlit night. Naima brought her candle to give them some light. They stood by the oasis, Mohammed got the sticks he had hidden for these nightly training regimes.
“Okay, scenario. You are walking back from Yahar, no you have to pretend not to see me look away Ima.”
“But I know you’re there, it’s hardly going to be a surprise,” she loved to frustrate him.
“Will you know the attacker is there on the night?” he quipped.
“If he’s talking to me like this, yes,” she smirked. He gave her a look, “Okay fine. I’ll pretend you’re not there and I’m walking from Yahar.”
Mohammad smiled and got his wooden sword out. He jumped in front of her, “I want all your coins and the things you bought from the town.” His voice was so hollow, he was truly a terrible actor.
Naima was about to withdraw her blade when she saw a light in the distance. Immediately she blew out the candle and her and Mohammad hid in the shrubbery. They were on horseback, she could hear the animal, whinnying in the distance. Mohammad looked at her, even in the darkness he looked concerned for her. She held his hand to ease his worry.
The light grew larger and the shape of the mysterious man came more prominent. He was a guard from Yahar, she had seen him before. He dismounted the horse and waited for a moment. Soon another man came, Naima recognised him as the Nawab of Yahar, he owned the big house on the hill and the vineyard where most of the refugees worked.
“We’re you followed?” spoke the Nawab.
The guard shook his head, “No, my Lord.”
“What do you have to report?”
“The whore is dead, I sorted it. Her body is buried just outside of town, south of the Hill of Stillness,” he said coldly.
“What of the babe?” the Nawab quivered.
“I told you that’s extra.”
“I had a dagger, very expensive. It has a jade hilt, it was from the Imperium before all the mess started. One of the refugees boys who work for me took it, search their tents tomorrow morning. Once you have the dagger, cut the hands of whoever took it and deal with that bastard.”
“He sits crying amongst the bare dead. Hopefully the crows will get him first, save me the trouble.”
They both nodded and arranged to meet where he buried the girl. Naima waited until they’re both out of sight and earshot before emerging from the brush.
Their voices spoke of such evil things. Naima struggled to comprehend what some of it meant. She knew a whore was a dirty and unclean woman, but they don’t deserve to die. They were still created by Unlaj and so was the baby. The poor baby who sat on the Hill and waited to die, no babe deserves that. The Nawab was a noble man, and he was supposed to be good. The Sultan of Alai gave him Yahar, he was supposed to protect everyone here.
“We have to save the baby,” Naima whispered.
“What?! No, we hide the blade and act like we heard none of that.”
“Brother please think, the nawab is willing to kill his own bastard son. The guard who is doing it will look for that dagger and he will find it. I won’t let you get your hands cut off brother,” Naima said. “Go under my pillow and tear a piece of parchment and get the charcoal as well. It’s my turn to protect you.”
Mohammad thought for a moment, he then agreed and went into the tent. Naima paced and thought her plan through. She would write an anonymous note to the brothel saying where their friend is buried. Then she would go and find the baby and give it to them. The Nawab and the guard will be caught and her brother won’t have his hands cut off.
Mohammad emerged from the tent and she wrote the letter.
I know where your missing friend is. She is buried south of the Hill of Stillness. This is her baby, the bastard of the baron. The guard with the scar across his nose is the culprit.
“Can you deliver this while I go and get the baby from the Hill. I’ll take the dagger and I’ll be safe don’t worry,” she smiled.
“What makes you think I know where the brothel is?” Mohammad gasped. He was quite embarrassed.
“Because I heard you boasting to your friends about the time you spent there two weeks ago,” she grinned when Muhammad went the same colour as her hijab.
“Fine,” he fumed, “you’re turning into mother.”
“Mother did always say the best information is often supposed to be unheard.”
“Be back here as soon as possible. I won’t be able to enter our tent without you,” he hugged her. “You’re a very smart little girl, you grew up so quickly. I miss when you used to talk to your dolls in full conversation. I miss having to take care of you.”
“You still do brother, but sometimes I must return the favour,” she squeezed him back. “I won’t be long. You just set that by and return here.”
Naima hugged him again before she sneaked into the night. The oasis slowly vanished behind her as she tiptoed to the lively town of Yahar. It seemed more awake now when it should be asleep. Naima could hear shouting drunk men and loud music. She blended in nicely, no one seemed to notice her. The Main Street was so busy, she wondered how Muhammad must be doing at the brothel. It’s probably open, hopefully he won’t stay.
The Hill of Stillness could be seen in the darkness from where she stood. She hid behind an apothecary. Even from here it terrified her, it towered over Yahar like a great shadow. It’s where the old and sick go to die. They lie down on a slanted pit and let nature takes its course. Mohammad said it was so the spirit didn’t have to fight through the earth to get to heaven. That sounded nice, though Naima didn’t want to disturb any spirits.
When Naima exited the town, she walked away from the noise. The silence of the desert was so loud. You couldn’t see anything but she heard all the insects and animals. In the middle of all this was a big tower of death. The closer she got to the tower, the more she wanted to run away. It’s stone entrance was just before her, and a long spiral staircase upwards. She swallowed her fear and began to ascend. Naima really wished her brother just got her a cake.
The wind whistled through the holes and the tower seemed to moan. It almost sounded like a person. On really windy days it could be heard even in the refugee camp. It sounded like a man crying. It made her even more scared, Mohammad said that’s what spirits just sound like. The wind helped carry them up to be with God. This calmed Naima, she found comfort in it. Soon though, the sound of a sharp cry could be heard over the whistling wind.
Naima withdrew her dagger, in case the guard was there. Guards don’t expect little girls to have weapons or know how to use them, she had the element of surprise. As she got closer to the top, the wind blew her hijab from her head. Her dark hair blew everywhere. Them there was an awful smell, Naima brought the cloth to her noise but even then it crept it’s way in. Gagging, she came to the top platform.
The smell was so strong. Hundreds of rotting corpses all aligned in a circle, their insides slipped out of them and into the pit below. Vultures and crows pecked at the flesh of the freshly dead. It was like a nightmare in front of her. A massive pit lay in the centre and acted as the collection tray for all the guts and bones. Covering her mouth and nose Naima looked for the crying baby.
He lay naked and shivering, exposed to the elements. She ran to him and wrapped him in her hijab, he was a survivor. She nursed him like mother nursed Janwar, he slowly stopped his crying and reached his little chubby hand up to her. Naima let him take her finger and he squeezed it gently. This moment of peace was interrupted by the sound of thunder.
This wasn’t like regular thunder. It came from the earth. She peered out one of the windows to see charging horses in the distance. Naima was now frightened, the last time she heard charging horses she was forced to leave her home. She could hear footsteps approaching from the staircase. There was nowhere to hide in this bare open room.
The same guard emerged with torch and his sword drawn. When he spotted her cradling the baby he stopped for a moment.
“This is not place for girls,” he yelled, “What are you doing with that babe? You defile yourself! Your father will flog you!”
Naima was too afraid to speak and too afraid to move. She watched him analyse her.
“You’re a refugee?” she still did not speak, “The Nawab will pay me double for this.”
Naima shielded the baby and closed her eyes tight. She hoped it would be over quickly. Her brother would miss her terribly, and so would mother, but they wouldn’t let her murder go unavenged. She would be remembered by them.
Though death didn’t come, she wasn’t going to see father. Instead she heard a thump, and then a man screaming, it faded and then stopped abruptly with a distant thud. She opened her eyes, hoping to see Mohammad, but instead saw her mother in a niqab. She turned her glare to Naima.
“You will explain later Naima. You and your brother aren’t exactly quiet when discussing your schemes,” she hissed.
Naima bit her tongue. She and her mother reached the bottom in a stony silence to match the setting. Naima looked to see if she could see the horses but only saw the gathering dust in the distance. She had to find her brother and alone, before her mother could. She ran through the Main Street with onlookers casting odd glances at them, she could hear mother call her name but still she ran. She saw a red lamp and headed down an alley, there her brother stood talking to a tall woman with a jeweled red veil. Naima blushed as she could see her belly.
“Pardon me madam, I must speak with my brother, urgently,” she gasped.
The mistress looked her up and down, “That’s a cute little child. Is that your little brother?” She reached down and stroked his head.
“Yes,” Naima smiled and took Mohammad aside.
“What’s wrong, why are you carrying him? And cover your hair Ima!” he whispered angrily, “If mother sees you without you hijab you won’t be able to go outside the tent for a month.”
Naima was about to speak when she was interrupted, “And what would mother do if she saw her son talking to whores?”
Naima felt her soul depart, she wanted to get to him before their mother caught up. Her mother stood with her arms folded and an eyebrow raised. Even in her niqab, they both could sense her lips were pursed tightly together.
“Mother, I,” Mohammad began, but she snapped her fingers for silence.
Their mother turned her eye to Naima, not without lingering a stare that nearly crushed Mohammad. “Now you explain, I doubt the baby is yours Naima. I hope it isn’t Mohammad’s either. Did one of the whores find out you were a lord’s son and charm you into bed? Are we to pay her silence now Mohammad? Are we to raise a bastard? Did you take advantage of Naima’s kindness and love for you to try and fix your mess? I certainly hope not. I raised you to be better than that. Naima, why were you at the Hill of Stillness, disturbing the dead with the child?”
“Mother I cannot explain right now, but you saw the horses marching this way. Please we must leave,” Naima cried. “They scare me.”
Her mother turned to look out the gate to see the gathering dust of the charging horses. Immediately she grasped her children and marched them to the refugee camp. Naima swaddled the baby to stop it from crying as they entered her tent. Their mother got Janwar and handed him to Mohammad.
“I take it we are to bring Mohammad’s bastard to?” she pointed at the baby. Mohammad protested but the glare from their mother silenced him. Naima nodded feebly, “What is his name?”
Naima hadn’t thought of that, “Shaheen.”
“Shaheen Ahmed, your brother. Do not make me regret this kindness Naima.”
Naima thanked her, “What are we to do mother? I’m frightened. People will find the guard.”
Their mother placed her hands on her shoulders, “Once we hear the shouting begin, we run for Karikastan. You stay close to your brother, I will be right behind you carrying our food and essentials. Do you not be afraid, your mother will take care of it. I have always protected you both. Now, explain why we have an extra child and why I had to push a man to his death?”
Mohammad’s mouth open wide, as if he were going to say something. He thought against it and remained quiet.
Naima took a deep breath, “Mohammad has been teaching me how to fight with a sword every night for the past four years and he stole a dagger from the Nawab and give it to me for my birthday. So tonight we were about to begin training when we heard two men talking and it was the Nawab and a guard and they said they killed the child’s mother and that they were going to kill the baby if it didn’t already die at the top of the Hill of Stillness. The Nawab said he was going to cut the hands off of the person who took the dagger so I thought if we left an anonymous note on the brothel then they’d be caught and I would have protected Muhammad because he always protects me.” Naima cried. She nearly said it all in one breath.
Their mother whacked Mohammad on the head, “You are such an idiot. I should cut off your hands. Where is the dagger now?”
“I hid it in my sleeve. I was going to use it if the guard saw me, but I got scared. I’m sorry for making you do that mother. Please don’t be mad at Muhammad, it was all my idea,” Naima whimpered.
Mother rubbed her eyes with her fingers, “You climbed to the top of the Hill, conspired against the man who pays us, and were willing to kill the guard yourself in order to protect your brother. You even desecrate your hijab and show your hair in public to save this child’s life?” Naima nodded and cried. Her mother smirked, “You are your mother’s daughter.”
She quickly handed Naima a basket for the baby.
At that moment a bell tolled in the city and the fighting began. The child began to cry. Naima hated the sound of battle, it sounded so frightening. When the screaming started, everything went to chaos. The patrol guards ran from their posts and they took their chance. They waded into the river, their mother took off her face veil to breath easier. Naima was so short, the water came past her mouth. Mohammad grabbed her and elevated her to breathe easier. When they reached the bank, Naima used the reeds to help her keep afloat.
Mohammad placed Janwar on the bank and then swam to Naima and Shaheen. Everything felt so confusing, the only thing that made any sense was to get to the other side of the river. She passed the basket to Mohammad, the baby cried so loud. Her brother was strong, and he lifted her out by the waist. Mother soon followed, her burqa was dripping wet. The cool of the night made her teeth shake.
“We must run for it mother. I can carry Janwar and Naima could take the baby,” Mohammad said.
“We will get run down by those men. I didn’t recognise their sigil. We should seek shelter, go to the cliffs, there will be caves we could hide in.”
Her mother and brother spoke so quickly. Naima tried to keep the baby quiet by rocking the basket lightly. Eventually he stopped crying. With Yahar still in turmoil, they followed the brush along the river’s edge, careful not to be seen or heard. Soon, the dark arches of the sand cliffs occluded even the bright moon. Muhammad ran ahead to search for the caves mother spoke of. He sound found one and hid their cold, wet bodies from the wind.
Soon he had went out to look for some dry grass. He returned with some of the bark from the palm trees and their scented leaves. They made their fire in the very back of the cave. Mother said you couldn’t see it from outside and that they’d be safe for the night.
“You’re a very brave girl Naima,” she said.
Naima smiled widely at her mother, it was the first compliment she had given her since the day father died. “Thank you mother.”
“We will have a very busy day tomorrow. Lots of walking, you will be tired and exhausted but know you have your mother and brother here to protect you and your siblings.”
“I know mother, and someday I will be able to protect you,” she smiled.
“I wonder what your father would think, to see us like this now. I think he would be very proud but also very sad.”
“Why’s that mother?”
“He would know how mature you have become then. How you’re not a little girl anymore, but a very capable woman.”
Naima fell asleep that night very proud of herself and ready for whatever the day may bring. She dreamed of peace and hoped that one day she could return home and everything would be as it was, happy.
ANASTACIA : 24 MOONBLESS 5E1
A new era has begun and the Royal Wedding shall commence today. Everyone shall be here; the Archduke’s of Hellasea and their courts and their entourages, the Sultan’s and Nawab’s, even the Pharoah and his Queen, various Kings, Princes from Vardenfin, Freinette and Utoto, though none from the Imperium. The free world’s nobility is here and the free world’s eyes are on them.
Queen Anastacia had already heard the rumours of Lumonite threats, assassination plots, zealous extremists and the like. Fanatic Lumonites from Haesington and as far north as St Catherine and even southern Tuscanai all plotted her removal. Great controversy had been caused already, not for her marrying the Lunation, but having the Lunar Eclipse, Lamiana, to officiate the wedding.
Remaining Lumonites in Caelo, Hellasea, Vardenfin, Unsya and Wardsteinland have already called it a grand conspiracy organised by the Lady Chancellor, and using Ana’s grief to manipulate her. Every Lord Sage in the Northern Realms all of a sudden became very busy on this day. It was insulting, as if she were incapable of deciding for herself. Nothing was more patronising than a bunch of old, decaying men who never had the biting sting of grief bark about the concept. She found it funny how no one claimed to know of these rumours and no one would publicly admit to them in Caelo. As far as society is concerned, the Lumonites are dead or living on the fringes of civilization, exactly where they should be. This fact ruffled the feathers of their bulbous swan.
Her handmaidens walked in on her sitting before the fireplace in her linens. She could not sleep the night before from excitement and anticipation. Her body was goosepimpled with the cold but she did not care, it was the last hours before she was to be wed. She had never imagined it like this. She always wanted to marry a lordly knight from a good and powerful family for love’s sake.
Anastacia did not want to think of the sadness, but it was almost too overwhelming. She misses her mother, her father, her siblings. This day should have been shared with them. The weight of Caelo fell on her shoulders alone.
Her handmaidens brought in the dress. It was a great and heavy looking thing. Sown with Hellasian silk and embroidered with the new emblem of their joint house; a gold wolf upon a silver crescent moon with a blood red backdrop. This was all neatly embellished onto the body of her dress. She imaged from a distance the red would make it look like she was going through a rather brutal miscarriage.
“The sleeves are awfully large aren’t they?” she said as they placed the dress upon a mannequin.
“Your grace the silk lace is the finest in all the world,” one of them said.
“I don’t doubt it. I cannot shake the feeling it’s all a bit much, considering most of the citizenry is recovering from the war. The lace, furs and silks seem almost too extravagant.” Her concern fell on unamused ears, “Ignore me, I’m ready to get dressed.”
The handmaidens looked at each other and began getting the queen ready. The corset tightening was tricky since she had lost so much weight. When they applied the dress it was a little large and had to be tightened in. A pearl belt was then placed around her waist. There were so many pearls thrown around her. Finally a diamond necklace around her neck, it weighed the same as a sword and the chain cut against her fair skin.
The hair was even more uncomfortable. So much braiding. The handmaidens nearly pulled it from her scalp. Finally when every tendril was accounted for they placed on the veil and fastened it all together with her mother’s crown. The same one to be used for her coronation.
Queen Anastacia was escorted out of the palace and into a gilded carriage. She wondered if it would slip on the blanket of snow Donlon was now covered in. It was nice seeing the white canvas before her, it felt like there wasn’t a battle that nearly destroyed everything. Despite her morbid thought, she constantly retained her crowd winning smile and kind smiling eyes. The carriage was pulled down and despite the biting cold, the sun shone for them.
The carriage ride over was a boring affair. Handmaidens and lady’s maids fussed around her, all a thousand times more excited than she is. She had got her new era and now she is to get a war hero of a husband who is both learned and kind. Queen Ana felt so ashamed and unhappy, she just wanted the day to be done and to get on with duty. She could smile more genuinely if she were being coronated, even then she must share that day with a man who is not even from here.
The bell tower had been repaired in time for the wedding. She looked outside to see thousands of citizens both native and foreign. This did bring a smile to her face, it was the Donlon she wanted to see, the Donlon she wanted to create. The dread of this day eased slightly, for the days coming would bring bounty to her city and to the people she cared so dearly for.
“Halt the carriage, I wish to walk the steps,” she announced. Everyone looked around at each other hesitantly. “Did you not hear me? I said halt the carriage!”
Her ride came to a slow stop just before the steps to the cathedral. She could see the excited faces of all her subjects. The door opened and the cold flew in with a vengeance. If her people could withstand the elements in the hopes of catching a glimpse of her through a carriage window, she could walk out and let them see her entirely.
As she stepped out she was greeted with the warmth of thundering applause and cheer. The apparitions of their breath nearly made a cloud before them. The guardsmen kept them away from her, but they still reached out to grasp her hand tightly. She reached the porch of the cathedral and when she exited she would be joined with her husband, the King.
The nave lay before her, in here sat every worthy person in Caelo; dukes, duchesses, counts, lords, ladies and knights, those who are still alive anyway. They all rose as her presence was announced. As she got closer she could see more familiar faces; the Archduke Napoleon of Vonseil and his wife, whose name she forgot. The Pharoah and Queen Heshima of Khaigypt in their divine and exquisite jewels and furs to keep out the Caelo cold. Finally she saw Meihui, Constance, Raven, Alicia and Keilum, who looked vaguely bored. All eyes were on her, and she was not disappointing
At the high altar stood Rory and the Lunar Eclipse, Lamiana. She was expected to bow before him, as she was preparing to, to her surprise, he knelt before her, his bright blue eyes gazed into hers and he gently grasped her hand. There was a chorus of delighted and surprised gasps.
“Your majesty, my queen,” he said.
Rory arose from his position and raised his head of well combed auburn hair. It fell to the collar of his silver and navy doublet, with the same embroidered sigil as on hers. They walked to the altar together, arms linked. The Lunar Eclipse opened the Learned Scriptures of Luna and cleared her throat.
“You may all be seated,” she announced. “We are gathered here today, to witness the joining of two incredible individuals, both of whom have faced great loss, great obstacle and great triumph. I, the Lunar Eclipse, am honoured to join the union of Queen Anastacia who was a vital strategist in defeating the Lumonite regime, and Lord Rory Howell, who went on a secret mission to secure the defining victory of the era past.”
Ana looked into his eyes, they were crinkled with the goofy smile he had on his face. Hers were too. “Queen Anastacia Goldenheart the second, you stand here before the Goddess of Luna, of the leaders of the world, of your subjects and your betrothed. I ask you to swear first, as sovereign of this nation, your love and commitment to Lord Rory Howell.”
Ana’s eyesight did not break from his striking blue eyes, They seemed to draw her in closer. “I, Queen Anastacia, take thee, Lord Rory, as my wedded husband. I promise to love, to cherish, to respect, to obey and to honour as your caring wife from this day until the last. In both sickness and health, rich and poor, young and old.”
There was a collective sigh of awe from the crowd.
Lamiana thanked her. “Lord Rory Howell, I now ask you to swear your love and commitment to Queen Anastacia Goldenheart, the monarch of Caelo.”
Ana could see his lip quivering. “I, Lord Rory Howell, take thee, Queen Anastacia Goldenheart, as my wedded wife. I promise to respect you, to love you and to care for you until my dying breath. You are my love, my light and my equal on this earth. I will do this, until death do us part.”
There was gasp of amazement from the crowd. Even Ana was humbled at being referred so publicly as an equal.
“By the power vested in me as Luna’s chosen representative on earth, I join these two individuals together, as equals under the laws of Gods and of state. At their request, the have chosen the name Howlheart to represent their joining. I will now present the rings of their undying and unending love.”
Lamiana presented them with two elaborate gold rings, encrusted with an array of enchanted jewels from the Seminar.
“As the gods are our witness, and before the sovereigns of the world, I pronounce thee husband and wife.”
The room erupted into a spectacle of applause. Ana was pleasantly surprised at Rory and his gestures of respect not to her but to womanhood. It would be a controversial reign, but it will yield results.
As they got to the quiet of the porch, she halted the opening of the doors, to have a moment’s peace with her husband.
“Do you think we should walk back?” she asked.
Rory though for a moment. “Yes, let the people meet their new king.”
He had the same silly smile on his face, like a happy puppy. They gestured the doors to be opened and with a great sweep of cold wind, they were meet with the smiling faces of their subjects.
The feast was raging onward. Every noble was enjoying the revelry at the palace. It was nearly bordering on debauchery. She wasn’t allowed to drink too much as every noble woman in the world wanted to speak with her about Rory. ‘It’s so marvellous you’re marrying a war veteran! The one who saved you and your city! It’s just like a fairytale’ ‘Is he really as powerful as all they claim?’ ‘Is it true he killed a dragon by looking at it.’ None of the women were interested in what she did in the war. How she arranged battle plans, how she negotiated or ployed. It was all about him, yet ironically he only wanted to talk about her.
Lady Raven wondered over to her when she was sitting on her own. She looked lovely in a black gown and low cut bodice that accentuated her breasts. Ana couldn’t help but stare.
“Can, uhm. Can they help you... your grace?” Raven smirked.
Ana blushed. “Pardon me Lady Raven. How is everyone?”
“Don’t sweat it honey... and, uhm, and they’re having a… blast! I, like, I came to check on you though, however.” There was a moment’s pause. “Do you want, uhm, do you want some more, like, wine?” Ana shook her head. “It’s your wedding...go on. I, uhm, I might drink it all then.”
Ana took the glass, there was a lot in it. Lady Raven sat beside her, she seemed to be very tipsy. “You know… Meihui? Is that it? Yeah, well her. She, uhm, she is watching Tiberius and Keilum do awamori shots. Rory… your darling husband, his grace… Uhm. He has already lost.” She hiccuped.
Queen Ana drank the wine quickly. She was using to hide her laugh at Raven and Rory. “Did he? Everyone loves talking about him.”
Lady Raven rolled her eyes. “I saw him… uhm, he was, like, speaking with someone. This man, I think. Yeah, uhm.” She paused mid sentence again. “Yeah, the man, kinda chubby, smells like, uhm, like stew. Patchy beard.”
She was talking about Lord Harold Bone.
“What did he say?”
“Ugh, honestly. Sweetie… uhm, I was there and I was, like, so bored.” She twisted her face into and mocked his voice. “Oh, I say, I was so moved by your respect for your wife and your effort in the war. I look forward to meeting with you on the privy council.”
Ana burst out laughing. She felt easier, it was the alcohol that loosened the cogs on her joints. “He is so serious all the time. He is a Lumonite through and through and he doesn’t respect women at all. What a liar, you should get used to them though. What did Rory say?”
“He said-” she twisted her face to mock Rory’s. “Well get used to working with the both of us dude. Queen Ana will be joining us in the privy council.”
Ana gasped with laughter. “He did not! Oh my goodness.”
Lady Raven laughed even more. She seemed to have a permanent smile on her face, and her head swayed on her shoulders. “What kind of music do you like Ana? Do you mind if I call you Ana? Like, I feel I don’t know you too well and you’re married to my best friend.”
Oddly, Ana felt no pang of jealousy in her when Raven spoke of Rory. Theirs was a pure friendship to be marvelled at. “Of course you can call me Ana. And, well, I can play the harp, the flute and the recorder.”
“Snap! I can, like uhm, play the recorder! But, girl, I mean, like, who do you listen to? Like, who speaks to your soul when you’re sad? Like, do you have iTunes?”
Queen Ana stared at her quizzically. “Pardon me?”
“Like, uhm, iTunes… you know?” There was another moment’s pause, “Oh shit wait! This is like Henry the eighth world!” she laughed.
Ana caught on, “Oh, is that what you listened to in,” her voice lowered to a whisper, “your world?”
Alicia came up from behind them. “Raven! Pardon me your grace. Lady Moira and I have been looking for her, along with Lady Constance and Lady Sophia. Was she bothering you?”
Queen Ana laughed. “Gods no, we were discussing music. Take her to them, I was about to go look for King Rory with her. I’ve had a few glasses of wine so I need to get some air. Do you know where my husband is at?”
Sir Alicia brought Lady Raven to her feet. “Last I saw he was trying not to pass out from drinking too much. I would check the Ebony Room that’s last I saw him. If not there, then the library or study first, Rory’s obsessed with books.”
“Thank you Alicia, and just call me Ana. No formalities needed.”
“I’ll come help you find them in a second,” she called back.
Ana nodded and watch Alicia guide Raven from her sight into the bulk of the crowd. Queen Ana began her lonesome search for King Rory around their palace. Everyone bowed as she passed through in her overpowering dress. The Ebony Room was down Hero’s Hallway, a corridor that commemorated the war veterans of past wars. This is where her father’s portrait hung, along with dozens of other male warriors and where Rory’s portrait shall be. There were no women on these walls, for now.
Ana could hear shouting and yelling from the room’s shut doors. Two guards stood in place, only those approved by the king must be able to enter. The opened the heavy doors for her as she walked towards them.
If someone had told Queen Ana what she saw she wouldn’t have believed them. Duke Hephestus sat across from Tiberius, who was barely able to sit never mind stand. There were three empty bottles of Imperium Awamori on the table. Her Lady Chancellor was playing this same game with Duchess Constance. Keilum lay slumped in a corner, cuddling a bottle of her favourite Frainette wine. Lady Sophia was here to, quitely observing and smirking from the corner. The doors opened behind her again and she saw Alicia and Lady Moira enter with Lady Raven laughing hysterically.
Alicia seemed embarrassed as did Lady Moira. “I’m so sorry your grace.”
“Don’t be such a Lumonite!” called Lady Sophia.
Ana hid her smirk, “I’m just looking for my husband,” the grin could not resist making itself known.
“I’ll help you find him now. I don’t think anyone is in the fit state to search for him. Moira could you make sure this remains…” Alicia began.
Lady Moira seemed to understand. “Yes, don’t worry. Your grace.”
Queen Ana exited with Alicia. Even with her dark skin she seemed red with embarrassment, her plump lips were pursed tightly.
“Does my husband drink so merrily?”
Alicia struggled to answer. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Why are you embarrassed?”
“I was more embarrassed for Moira. She seems very uptight and strict and in control, unlike her employers who secrets she must keep, well secret. They’re all keen drinkers, along with Raven. I never was, but Rory, Keilum and Raven are, so I just get embarrassed by it and understand her situation very well.”
“My father drank a lot as well, it’s what made him get so heavy. My mother always said it wasn’t ladylike and so I never did either. But then, at any party or event, she was always drinking wine and so were all my friends. It’s a curious relationship.”
Before they entered the main hall where the bulk of the party was happening, Ana hooked onto Alicia’s arm. “People have asked me about you. Thinking I’m not your friend, and that I’m only keeping up appearances for the sake of the Pharoah and his queen. Or carrying on my father’s legacy for the sake of honoring family. I’ve heard the whispers by the nobles of the Northern Realms. I want to let them know that I am your friend and you will be a vital commodity to the new Caelo.”
“What do you mean?” her voice and face were both quite curt.
“We both know you’re smart enough to know what I’m talking about. My father abolished slavery, one of my handmaidens, Onika, was the daughter of a slave from Haesington. These people, the Archduke still has slaves and so does the entirety of Hellasea, Frainette, Karikastan, Wardensteinland and Quaritz yet they all sit in my throne room clinking glasses of wine. I want to show them, along with all the other racist nobles in Caelo what you are capable of. To stand, not above you, but at your side.”
Alicia seemed pleased, “How am I to do that?”
“You walk in with me, arm in arm, and talk to the Archduke about your studies in Xaandar as well the political regime you and Rory have been working on. You talk to his wife about the silk of the dress that was hand stitched in Caelo with the finest silks from Khaiypt. I will be by your side smiling along and waiting for their faces to crack.”
“I do love making racist white people uncomfortable. Did you revise the regime? I mean it is in it’s infancy,” Alicia sighed.
“Yes I know all about the two Houses and what not, now let’s make an entrance. Open the doors.”
The doors opened and all eyes fell on Alicia and Ana. The cheering men fell silent, the women nearly broke their necks turning to look. Queen Ana eyed the Bone family who all had forced smiles painted on their false faces. She then spotted the Archduke who drank the remainder of his drink and she approached with a keen smile on her face.
“Duke Napoleon, I am so glad you could attend the feast. Forgive my husband’s absence he has taken such a keen interest in the library I’m sure he’ll be here shortly,” Ana greeted him.
“The honour is mine to attend such an extravagant wedding, your majesty. Your husband does you even greater honour, he must be tired constantly praising you. He and I will speak plenty in the future when he is less lovestruck with such a beautiful woman such as yourself.” He didn’t even glance at Alicia.
“If any woman is to be properly praised it is Sir Alicia who I have the privilege of introducing you too. She is the first woman to be knighted for her efforts in the war and the first woman to be accepted to study at the Xaandar University.”
“No surprise a woman knighting a woman,” the Archduke smirked.
“Well, the king placed her on the honours list, which I revised.”
“You do me too much honour your grace,” Alicia blushed. “ I’m a close friend of the King’s, I’m sure he sent a very good reference in my name. My essay on magical theory and religious oppression would have only got my foot in the door,” she grinned.
The Archduke looked like he was set on fire. “Truly remarkable, for a negro woman.”
Ana felt her arm be squeezed by Alicia’s firm grasp. “It is, then me studying politics must’ve helped of course. I’m to be helping the Lady Chancellor and the King with the new regime. We’ll be having the Chambers of Legislature and then the Chamber of Nobles and the Delegacy. All complicated stuff, I’m sure it’ll bore you.”
“You studied politics? With what institution?” he asked, his thin lips tightly pursed.
“She studied with me at the palace and then when she proved to be a very capable Songstress, she divided her studies between the cathedral and the royal tutor.”
The duchess appeared like a ghoul from behind her husband. “You see all this stuff goes go over my head. Negro women mustn’t have the delicacy us normal woman have. The gentle touch and femininity.” Ana wanted to spit in her face.
“It’s not that difficult, how very sad of you to say. I did sow and embroidered this dress? That requires femininity and the gentle touch which I don’t lack. I can also sing exceptionally well. But I digress, the King is so late, I’ll go and find him, it was a pleasure speaking with you both.”
Alicia departed with a satisfied smirk on her face leaving Ana to deal with the insufferable dukes. “It’s a pity you decided to enslave them and rob them of human dignity and respect. You could be far more prosperous and less… marginalised from the world. I don’t mean to bring up business, but we will have no trade embargoes with slaveholders. I have to go find my husband.”
“Don’t make stupid mistakes your majesty, just because some anomaly of a negro woman wrote a good essay.”
“I don’t make the mistakes, your grace. You make enough for the both of us. Besides, Alicia took the place that was rejected to your son. Have a nice night.”
Alicia was by the Luna Corridor. The study was closer to the throne room than the library so she wandered through the ancient hallways. As the sound of the cheering crowd began to fade amongst the winding corridors she decided to speak. “You were very well composed. When you squeezed my arm I thought you were going to hit him.”
“I wanted too, but that wouldn’t have helped anyone.”
“That’s very true. I’m surprised you’ve grasped so quickly the delicacy and complexity of court. That would be the first of many instances you will face where you want to rip the heart from the person in front of you and you handled it so cooly.”
“I read this series of books that was all about court intrigue, I learned it was best to make the right friends and enemies.”
Queen Ana grinned in both shock and admiration. “I am well pleased, and lining yourself so openly with the king and queen casts you as many enemies as friends, though I warn it’ll be difficult to tell them apart.”
“I only really trust Rory, Raven and Keilum. I’m sure I can grow to trust you,” Alicia bowed.
“Likewise, Sir Alicia. You are no ordinary woman, but this new era is filled with such. Come, I can hear Rory from here. Does he often talk to himself?”
“Yes,” laughed Alicia.
They could both hear his chirping from down the hall. Ana had to admit, despite it being odd, there was a quirky charm to it. It made his character seem more sincere. He sat on his desk looking out the great window behind him where the moon was framed perfectly.
“I really do believe I have the opportunity to do something fantastic here and for these people Mila. This is what I was destined to do,” he turned when he heard their footsteps approach.
“Sorry Rory,” Alicia grinned.
“It’s fine, I just wanted to get away for a bit. I was never fantastic at parties,” he smiled.
“That’s a good thing, you won’t be like my uncle then,” Ana said. “You know the study only holds books on my family’s past along with histories of the country.”
“I began to read the histories, the Goldblood family appear a lot in the mid second era until finally becoming the royal family towards the end. A family of powerful Lumonite knights and your mother, the Siegheims of Sancti have prominent Lunation ties, as well as Lumonite,” he began.
Queen Ana burst out laughing. “You are a peculiar fellow.”
The three remained in the study and talked of all things magical and historical. It made Ana feel like an old sage teaching young children. Alicia had left, but her and the king spent all night talking until Sol rose his head and let the warmth seep in.
In truth, Ana did not want to be alone. She had spent many a lonely night crying into the small hours of the morning until allowed her some peace. This was the first night she felt okay to be with her husband. As they walked through the mess of the throne room, which had begun to be cleaned, Rory stopped for a moment.
“Your grace,” a servant bowed, daring not to look him in the eye.
“I’m sorry for the mess. Thank you for your service,” he smiled.
The servant looked up at him with a smile. “Thank you, your grace. Many blessing on you.”
They continued their early morning tour until they came to their bedchambers. She could tell he was exhausted from the countless times he yawned.
“This is my stop my queen,” he bowed his head.
“We are married now, we should share a bed.”
The king seemed to blush. “I… uh, of course.”
She entered and was surprised at the mess. His clothes lay strewn across the floor and the bed was undone.
“Have the servants not cleaned in here?”
“I, uh, didn’t want anyone in here cleaning it made me feel awkward. I was going to get around to it but we were getting married so I forgot and we had the political thing to figure out and I had to have so many meetings with Meihui…”
The queen laughed gently. “Come into mine then.”
“Are you sure, I don’t want to feel like I’m forcing you into anything? Are you okay with it like?”
Ana breathed deeply. “I believe I am.”
They both entered the royal bedchamber, which was far cleaner. Queen Ana began to slip out of her clothes; the room was warm with the roaring fire and the orange light made her skin glow. She stood before him in her linens and corset, and he before her in his hose and loose linen shirt.
“Untie me,” she said cooly.
Ana began to undo her heavily braided hair and let it hang loose. She felt his soft hands on her waist and undo the lining of her corset. Her linen gown then fell gracefully from her slender body and hit the floor.
Ana then helped him with his linens. She removed his shirt but he stopped her.
“I have… scars. They’re pretty bad.”
“I don’t care about that. You have a good heart, free from scars. That’s all that matters.”
“And my nice eyes,” he winked.
“That helps,” she laughed.
Ana pulled the shirt over his head, his body was still thin but with his training he was more toned than before. He looked so frail when the war was over, now he looked like a young king. He pulled down his hose and both of them giggled at the vulnerability they had. She felt so equal here, exposed yet safe in his presence.
“Can I ask you a question?” she said.
“Yeah, of course.”
“You must be honest with me. Have you ever done this before? With a woman? Because I have not, and I don’t know what to do or to expect.”
“I will be honest,” he sighed. “I, uh, I don’t really want to do this right now. I want to be intimate with you, and there are more ways than sex to be intimate.”
Queen Ana breathed a sigh of relief. “We can talk again, I really enjoy talking with you.”
King Rory smiled at her with the same smile he had on the altar. “We can talk about anything then.”
The monarchs talked and cried with laughter until the sun was well up and they both fell asleep from exhaustion. She couldn’t remember who drifted off first, but she remembers never feeling so intimate and raw with another person, especially another man. She remembers being happy, and it was the rarest type of happiness. It was joy, it was hope; hope for what the new era will bring them.
makaylakay: I love love this story! It's written incredibly and well thought-out plot! I love how it's a different twist in fantasy fiction, other then the usual vampire or werewolves. Love the romantics and drawn to the two characters so much already! This book will draw you in within the first chapter and ...
Stephen Warner: To start off, I am thoroughly impressed. The writing style is somewhat unique, and the plot seemed to move at a nice and steady pace. However, I was not expecting this to be a vampire book! I am usually not one for novels about vampires, but I was pleasantly surprised! You wrote with such grace a...
genlynne2379: I read the other review of this book and I must say that I disagree with it wholeheartedly. I do not believe the author put the apostrophes in the names just to be unique, but because the characters are supposedly of a different race than humans. They are Anmah. They should have different names a...
nikmariecav: I loved reading this book! I was hooked from the moment I started reading. It took me a day to read the whole thing but I didn't want to stop reading. The way the paragraphs were broken up made it at times hard to read and know what was going on. Other than that I loved the plot and the character...
Katy Rayne: i really enjoyed this book. i have to say i didn't know what to expect, but with every chapter that came something crucial to keep you reading happened. I was disappointed with the ending if this is for another book i will defiantly carry on reading the next book.
Theresa Alley: right from the start it is of the genre I love!! And it doesn't slow down from there!! I love that it kept me reading til I had no more story left to read!! I finished it in one day!! love this book!! looking forward to more from this author, if not about ASTA, more of the same style!! PLEASE!!!???
Sarah Luongo: My friend recommended this to me and I was hooked immediately. The images and voices of these characters come so clearly in my head, which I love. I love seeing from all of these characters points of view, and still the book has a continuous flow. There are some punctuation and grammar mistakes, ...
Marimar Amieva: Although I found the vampire thing a bit too much, I couldn't stop reading it. The story had a bit of everything: mystery, romance, a huge plot twist and relatable characters. I congratulate the author for this story and hope to read more of whatever he writes.
Krupa Kataria: the detailing is really awesome ....the characters, ur plots jst too Awsm ,m waiting for the further chapters please do complete it ...like m really craving for those ones ...great job with words too ..please complete the further parts ...