My mother raised my brothers and me on the same story. She would tell us about the first sunrise on the Bethley Isles. The way it warmed the icy land and allowed the trees to grow and our crop to sustain us. That before the sunrise, our beasts lived in the darkness of the shadowlands. When the sun rose, the shadowbeasts split into two, those that merged with us to form lycans, and those who still live in darkness of Iiesha. But one day, she would tell us, one day the shadows will seek our land out again to claim our beasts once more. For the shadows have always craved the souls it created, and our beasts are formed of the worst darkness.
But our Khannun protects us from those shadows. Khannun Kol protects our people from the darkness, the way his father and grandfather did before him. The way Khanel Raedwulf will one day protect us under his light. But first, to rule our Isles, he needs his mate. No lycan can rule without their mate, they cannot inherit or hold any position in the Isles without their other half. Mates are a lycan’s closest advisor, most trusted protector, and heated lover.
Khanel Raedwulf has been searching, visiting every homestead on every isle to find his other half. Today his ship will be landing on Theris, my homeland isle. The isle that my father has been sworn to protect for our Khannun. He is Theris’ Aeral, and one day my brother would be the Aeral, and his son after that. The job of an Aeral is to protect the people on behalf of the royal family and serve justice under the law.
“Idonia, are you ready?” the door to my room opens, and in comes my mother. She is dressed in her dark blue dress, designed with golden threading and lighter blue decals. Over her shoulders is a black bearskin shawl that was pinned to her by bronze broaches bearing our family’s crest.
When she saw me, she sighed before stepping up behind me. She grabbed my brush and started to stroke my black hair. Her delicate fingers start three braids on the left side of my head before she mirrored it on the other side. Once my hair is finished, she has me stand and helps clad me in bronze and silver chains before covering my arms with a grey and blue overdress that hung open in the front but covered my entire body.
“Today is important. The Khanel must be impressed with our management of Theris or he may decide to not let Eske take over the land,” she straightens my dress before placing her hand on my cheek.
“Father said he’s nothing but a child.”
“Your father calls everyone who hasn’t been to war a child, including Eske.”
“How can he protect us from the shadows if he’s never killed another man?”
Mother scoffs at me, “You are sounding like your father now. Maybe he is your mate.”
I turn away from her and go to my window. “I don’t want a mate. I don’t want to leave Theris.”
“Don’t be that way, Idonia. A mate is a blessing, one that none of your brothers have found. Being a Khanea would suit you.”
“It would suit father’s and your wish to keep Theris in the family line.”
“Connections make life easier, Idonia.” She walked up behind me and watches the window. “Mates make life easier. He’s here.”
Outside the window is a procession of horses. All from the south, the beach that Khanel Raedwulf would have landed on. I follow Mother downstairs and into the courtyard. There all of my brothers and Father waiting for us. Mother takes her place by Father’s side as his Aeralea. All of the siblings line up in order of birth. First is Eske, my father’s heir and next Aeral of Theris. In proceeding order: Egil, Inghram, Ingolf, myself, and my youngest brother, Olen. Lycans have large families. Behind my family are all of the Viker; the fighting men and women of Theris. Well, at least those that live close to our homestead. The ones close to the front are of the highest order, my father’s personal guard and advisors.
Soon the gates to the yard open and in comes Khanel Raedwulf on his black stallion. I don’t know all of the faces behind him, but tradition dictates that two are his personal Viker, one is his father’s Viker, and the rest are other Viker, related to the Viker, or servants.
The Khanel dismounts and approached my father. He is tall and broad, his size even rivaling my father who is the largest man I’ve ever met. His beast must be powerful if the man’s size is any indication. His hair is a bright red, as suggested by his name, but his eyes are dark. The entire presence of the Khanel terrifies me but also draws me in. As he greets my father, I listen closely to his voice.
“Aeral and Aeralea Torbet,” his voice is deep and husky, absolutely masculine. I gulp as I hear it, knowing it’s not threatening but also knowing the sound terrifies me.
“Khanel Raedwulf Dolph,” Father bows before we all follow his lead. “My children, Aeren Eske, Egil, Inghram, Ingolf, Idonia, and Olen.”
He looks over each of us before walking past my brother. He examines each of them before landing on me. His nostrils flare before he offers me his hand.
This is it.
Khanel Raedwulf wants to know if we’re mates. The touch will tell us. It will either be warm or cold. I take one deep breath, lifting my hand and placing it in his.
I look up, meeting his eyes, and see his hard expression soften. He lowers his hand and breaks our contact. “Your name again?”
I swallow the lump in my throat as the beast inside me stirs. “Idonia Torbet, daughter of Aeral Trym Torbet and Aeralea Anrid Torbet.”
“Khanelea,” he says softly. “My Khanelea.”
I know my family is watching me, waiting for me to make a wrong move and dishonor them all. When I make no move, say no words, the Khanel sighs. He reaches up and unhooks his heavy fur cloak. Skillfully he unwraps it from himself and lays it on my shoulders. The warms of his cloak and the smell of his scent engulf me. This is him saying, silently, that he has accepted me as his mate and has taken me under his protection.
Now it’s my turn.
“Khanel, my Khanel,” I tremble as I say the words. I reach for my side and pull out my dagger. The dagger was given to me when my beast first took form in this world, her presence popping into my head and fully forming when I got my first blood. I grab his hand, light electrical sparks dance over my skin as I examine his palm. Hesitantly, I dig the blade into his hand. He shows no indication of pain as I make him bleed.
I bring his hand to my lips and lick over his hand, drinking his blood.
Khannun - male leader, King, Alpha, Khan
Khanea - female leader, Queen, Luna, Khalessi
Khanel - royal heir, prince, rajah
Khanelea - royal heir’s mate, princess, rani
Aeral - male leaders of different Isles, Earls
Aeralea - female leaders of different Isles, Countess
Aeren - heir to the Isle
Viker - warriors, advisors, protectors