Shadows to the South

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Chapter 3-Siva

The unofficial news was brought to her attention by an excitable hum of activity within Vorbanu. Official missives were rarely received, so when they did arrive, they were usually followed by an overwhelming amount of speculation and gossip. Irritatingly so, Siva seemed to be the last to find out. Even her siblings were made aware of the letter before she was, although they too were unaware of its contents.

The castle at the capital city of Vorbanu was abuzz with activity. Servants were gathering in small groups to discuss, the staff was heard whispering amongst themselves. Even her ladies in waiting gently prodded her for additional information, hoping that she had some insight on what the missive contained. As the heir, her father or mother should have alerted her first, but they had yet to contact her.

One of her ladies in waiting gently pinned back her golden hair in an elaborate tumble of curls that cascaded artfully down her back. Usually, she would find their attentions irritating; she was fiercely independent, and while she did enjoy their company, she wasn’t overly fond of being pampered and fussed over. Their doting today, however, gave her ample opportunity to brood over the letter, and to listen in on whatever tidbits of information the staff might have so that she could be better prepared.

Siva was what one would call a natural beauty. While her ladies did enjoy attending to her, they didn’t need to do much to improve upon her already exquisite features. She was well known at court for her exceptional appearance; makeup and additional attention paid to her hair and dress only served to amplify her already flawless features. She had porcelain skin and large, expressive amber eyes that were outlined by a fringe of long lashes. Her high cheekbones, heart-shaped mouth, and perfect proportions were the envy of many individuals. She was, in body, the epitome of a beautiful Princess, even though, in mind, she often felt like she was lacking.

While her father never treated her as a lesser individual due to her gender, it was clear that he was unwilling to relinquish the throne any time soon. He made that abundantly apparent by excluding her from important political discussions, or decisions that would impact her people. She had explained to him numerous times that this would only hinder her when she did eventually take the throne, but her father was a prideful individual, and no amount of reasoning would make him see sense. Her mother, however, thought otherwise. Iskassa was often the driving force behind any decisions that her father, Vulcanus, would make. She was a well-known political mastermind, and also a great beauty equal to that of her daughter. Iskassa had pressed to have Siva included in more decision-making, and Vulcanus had reluctantly agreed to appease her. Since then, however, she had still only seen minute improvements, which only served to heighten her frustration.

While she agonized over the letter some more, she waved dismissively at the lady-in-waiting who was still toying with her hair. As an afterthought, she smiled apologetically over her shoulder at her before she exited, and then sighed loudly in irritation. A laugh sounded to her right, and Siva glared at her younger sister. Lisassasya (or Lissa as she preferred to be called), arched an elegant eyebrow at her, her smile still firmly in place.

“Don’t look so dejected Siva. I’m sure mother or father will let you in on the big secret soon enough.”

Siva crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help the small smirk that stole across her lips. “So you say, and yet, somehow, everyone knew before me that there even was a raven!”

Lissa laughed aloud, her green eyes twinkling animatedly. “That’s because Shifra is a nosey beast, and Raju was with her. If it hadn’t been for our dragons, we all would have been none the wiser.”

Siva knew that Morganna had been sleeping the day away. Being older than her siblings’ dragons, Morganna was less inclined to chase stray ravens, and more likely to be found basking in the afternoon sun. Morganna would likely have even less information than Siva unfortunately.

Vau nodded excitedly in agreement before exclaiming “Raju saw it fly into the rookery and told me that it was carrying something with the official seal!”

Siva surveyed her siblings thoughtfully. She knew that the information from Raju and Shifra was accurate. Dragons had exceptional eyesight and cunning, even if her siblings’ dragons weren’t nearly as old as Morganna. Even though the hatchlings were younger, their intelligence still equaled that of their fully grown brethren. It was an odd dragon quirk that no one could fully explain. Regardless of how old the beasts were in body, their minds seemed to be considerably older.

Siva glanced back at her middle sibling pensively. Lissa was a young woman; still a hundred years her junior, as elementals aged incredibly slowly, but Siva knew that she understood that the letter likely held nothing of any importance to her. Being the second child, she had little to no involvement in any of the political talks, which suited her just fine. Her sister was a wild, untamed thing, who found joy in infuriating her parents and thwarting their plans to marry her off to some money-laden well-to-do person. Lissa wanted nothing to do with marriage, and insisted on waiting for her perfect mate, as those who were bonded to dragons were wont to do. As a result, their parents continuously paraded a host of men her way, in the hopes that one would strike her fancy or trigger that odd instinct to pair off that the Dragon Lords and Ladies seemingly had ingrained into the fiber of their being. Lissa had ignored any advances, however. Siva often wondered if it was as a result of her disfigurement; her sister had lustrous ruby red hair, freckled features, and vibrant green eyes that were distinct and beautiful in their own way. However, as a child, she had been injured while sparring using her elemental fire magic, and her face was marred by a burn that stretched from her right eyebrow, across the bridge of her nose, to the left side of her jaw. It was an angry, vividly red scar, but one that she refused to attempt to keep hidden. While Lissa outwardly wore it like a badge of honor, Siva also knew that she could be extremely self-deprecating when it came to her appearance and that her self-confidence was a private issue that she was working hard at overcoming.

Vaugrcau (or Vau) was much younger in comparison. He was perched on the edge of Siva’s bed, practically bouncing with anticipation. Just the concept of something coming from the capital was enough to pique Vau’s curiosity, even if it had nothing to do with him. His golden hair was currently tousled into a mass of natural curls due to all of his eager restlessness.

“I wonder what they would send a raven for… maybe the High King is asking us to come to court!” Vau exclaimed gleefully.

At that, Siva’s heart pounded a painful rhythm in her chest. She opened her mouth to respond, but she was cut short by the arrival of two scaled creatures.

Raju, a cobalt-colored dragon with a massive crown of spikes and a sharp beak-like snout, barrelled in through her open window and straight into Vau, who promptly fell off the bed with a squeak of laughter. Siva swore that Raju was more puppy than dragon. While he was highly intelligent, his maturity sometimes seemed to match that of her youngest sibling. He was about the size of a small pony, still small enough to fit through the overly large windows of Vorbanu, but not for much longer.

Heavy wingbeats heralded the coming of another dragon, and Siva watched as Shifra perched outside on her balcony with all the grace of her kind. Shifra was often unpredictable; not in an aggressive sort of way, but she was very much in tune with how Lissa was feeling and tended to mirror her bonded’s emotions quite closely. If Lissa was particularly transparent with how she was feeling, then it was easy to predict how Shifra would react. If she wasn’t, then Shifra was often temperamental. The dragon was the same shade of green as fresh grass, with a large curved horn on her snout, spiked eye ridges, and a finned back ridge and jawline, giving her a much more aquatic appearance than the other dragons in the household. The differences between all of the dragons were so striking that it never ceased to amaze Siva.

Lissa was quick to join her bonded and stroked Shifra’s neck with a warm smile. Shifra was considerably larger, and could not be accommodated in Siva’s room. She would have fit into the antechamber made especially for Morganna, but the dragons were all a bit particular about not invading each other’s private spaces, so Shifra avoided the room out of consideration.

Lissa’s head tilted a moment as if listening. She patted Shifra’s neck once more before she spoke. “Mother and father are on their way. Shifra saw them crossing the courtyard. I guess this is something that they feel they need to discuss with you after all.” She left the rest unsaid, but Siva heard it nonetheless. Vau and Lissa would not be needed, nor wanted, for this discussion, otherwise, they would have summoned all of them for a family meeting.

Siva nodded in response. While she was sure her siblings were sometimes grateful for not being as involved as she was in more pressing matters, she knew that Lissa did often chafe at being excluded. She was old enough but being the second child, her words carried little to no value in their father’s eyes.

Lissa met her sister’s eyes with a brusque nod, before crawling onto Shifra’s back. “Fill me in later, if you feel the need.” With that, Shifra took flight off of the balcony’s edge, launching them both into the air. Vau also took that as his cue to leave and abruptly bounded through her bedroom door with a cursory wave, Raju hot on his heels.

Siva resisted the urge to fidget nervously, and instead, rose to her feet so that she wouldn’t sit idly. When she noticed that she had begun to pace, she sighed aloud in frustration. Her mind started to concoct all sorts of reasons why the capital would call on them, and once again her heart raced with a tempo that she was all too familiar with.

Her parents entered her chambers with little pomp and circumstance, and she smiled, greeting them both with a warm hug.

“Mother, father, I’ve heard that there was a raven?” she asked, cutting straight to the chase.

Iskassa raised a delicate brow at this, but Siva could see the small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. Her father grinned broadly in response.

“That we did,” Vulcanus thundered with his usual aplomb. “Straight from the High King himself!”

Iskassa sighed mightily, her brows furrowed in irritation. For all of her father’s political power and military might, he lacked a certain amount of tact and cautiousness. Luckily, her mother more than made up for this.

“Hush Vulcanus. Certainly, we don’t need the entire castle to be aware of the contents of the letter?” she replied, her voice pitched carefully low.

Vulcanus had enough grace to look somewhat chagrined. “Everyone will find out soon enough. It’s not as if we have anything to be ashamed of Iska,” he continued in a much more reserved fashion.

Siva lost the last vestiges of her patience as she all but threw her hands up in the air. “This is all well and good, but could someone please make me aware? I’m fairly certain that most of the staff already has an inkling, so it’s a bit late to be concerned about discretion of any kind!”

With that, Siva gestured to the small sitting area in her room, and her parents promptly followed her without so much as a word. Vulcanus started again, much more sedately now, having been mollified by his wife.

“Silvanos has sent a summons,” he stated. Siva gave him a questioning look before he continued. “The summons is specific; it’s just for you.”

Her mother leaned forward in the wingback chair she was seated in and threaded her fingers together before picking up where her father left off. “Silvanos has been widowed for some time now. It was only a matter of time before he would feel obligated to seek another wife. He’s requesting that the daughters of the realm be sent to the capital so that he can pick his new bride from amongst them.”

Siva felt her heart lurch uncomfortably in her chest at her mother’s statement. She knew that it was true. Royalty couldn’t afford to not continue their line. Silvanos had been widowed for longer than would be considered reasonable, and his council had likely pressured him into trying to secure a new match to ensure the safety of the Realm. Her heart wasn’t stuttering out of objection; far from it. Siva was no stranger to relationships. By nature, fire elementals tended to be more promiscuous than most, and Siva was far from inexperienced. Logically speaking, Silvanos would make the perfect match, and she knew that he would have enough foresight to see that, politically speaking, a marriage between the capital and Silkamolus would be the most advantageous. She knew that this had not escaped her parents’ notice, as Vulcanus’ eyes all but sparkled with greedy anticipation.

Long ago, Vulcanus had tried to marry Siva off to Silvanos, before he met and married his late wife. Silvanos had turned him down then, mostly due to his growing affection for Atilleh. She was almost certain that her father had never quite forgiven him for his refusal, and if she were being completely honest, his rejection had been bitterly disappointing to her as well. Silvanos was, quite frankly, everything that Siva had been looking for in a husband. She wasn’t one to chase men; they usually came quite freely to her, with little to no effort on her part. Silvanos however, was another matter entirely. He was the one that had gotten away, the one man who had completely escaped her. And for some reason, his chivalrous rebuff didn’t reduce her feelings for him. Quite the opposite in fact; he had continued to treat her with nothing but respect and kindness, even after his marriage, which had only served to deepen her affection for him. It was more than mere lust. While she would never wish ill on Atilleh, she had hoped for quite some time that he would still see her at court and that the consistency and frequency of her appearances at court would sway him into realizing the error of his ways.

She knew that her continued presence over the years in Comeltum had put her in an advantageous situation. That and the mutual respect and trust that she had built with Silvanos over the years. She couldn’t help but be elated over the news; she could potentially have everything that she had ever wanted, but there was still that nagging pang that gave her pause. The sting of rejection hadn’t quite healed. Silvanos had never shown any romantic intentions towards her, but she had always made it abundantly clear, without being crude, where she stood with him. She was determined this time to make him see just how perfect they could be together.

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