#1 The Sacrifice
Xemein (19 years old)
When I was a little girl, I always thought that when the day comes for me to marry, that I would be as happy as some of the brides I had seen. That my face would glow like theirs. And that on every line of my cheeks, happiness would radiate; joy would fill it. That was my thought. What I believed. And my father let me think so too.
But the thing about life is, is that it surprises us. Stuns us. Proving to us mortals that we aren't in control of it, instead, it controls us.
About ten years ago, I witnessed a wedding ceremony for the first time, and now, since, I'm about to be wedded in less than a day, I can boldly say that dreams don't often come true. That the desires that envelope our young hearts could just be crushed, as easily as an egg in the palm of a toddler. 'Cause now, my face isn't glowing and neither are the lines of my cheeks radiating joy and happiness.
"Please lift your chin, my lady" my maid servant, Isolda, a busty female in her twenties said as she applied the grounded powder particles to areas right below my jaw.
"I'll be done soon" she said.
I kept quiet. Wishing I could tell her to let me be alone. To not bother dressing me up at all, as I didn't want this wedding. Didn't want to be joined to a man I've never met. Didn't want to have to share the same bed with a man half the world feared.
The Dark Lord.
The only living being to possess a dragon.
A man born with a rare colour of hair - silver, and when lightning filled the skies, compounding his lightning abilities, many said, his hair blazed white, absorbing the streaks of lightning along with the rest of his body.
More so, this Gift of his was so powerful, that it was said that a touch of his bare hand against someone's flesh, was enough to electrocute that person. Causing instant death. Hence, as a result of this, he always wore hand gloves.
My left hand went to my neck. My bride collar. Another constant reminder of everything I would lose if I failed my mission in this marriage.
Cold chills ran down my spine.
The things I've heard about Him.
Like every Armalith royal, he possessed fish lungs. Making Him beyond able to spend six or more hours beneath water. What did that mean? Fat goose bumps lined my arms. That whether on land or in water, my to - be - husband was indestructible? A god capable of turning any environment into a death zone for his enemies?
A tale about one of the many battles he had fought in was still continuously repeated by every storyteller on the streets of Armalith.
It was said that during the Analican war (the war that gave Him his infamous nickname). The Dark Lord and his army pursued a thousand men into the Elden river.
His enemies stood in the shallow water, while he and his army stood at the Elden river bank. The Dark Lord came down from his horse, deflecting the several arrows his foes fired at him with his sword and shield, and then, his feet made contact with the Elden.
He crouched, removed his glove and placed his bare hand in the river.
The horror of what happened next, is still narrated till this day. And used by mothers to frighten disobedient children into obedience as they threaten them with words of inviting the Dark Lord.
Many of the soldiers (from the Dark Lord's army) who witnessed that infamous historical incident were later reported to have been in shock for weeks. A few of them who weren't as tough as others had nightmares about that day for months and finally, some of them left the army, with their minds scarred for life.
What they saw was this, a thousand healthy men once standing in River Elden and shooting arrows at them, suddenly stopped, then started screaming in agony, as streaks of lightning travelled from the point of the Dark Lord's bare hand in the river to every point in the river. And then, like speed demons, the streaks of lightning enveloped the feet of each man and raced to their heads.
Struck dead by lightning.
And all that was left of the men in the river, were corpses for vultures. Unidentifiable bodies. Every bit of skin on each man had been savagely toasted.
"My lady, time to fix your hair" Isolda's words interrupted my thoughts. I stood up and moved to a second seat where a brown-eyed maid started brushing my hair at once. A few minutes later, of another maid touching up my face, I heard the words I had waited hours to hear "we are done, my lady. You can look now".
Slowly, my eyes opened. Gazing into the mirror the maid had put in front of me. I might be beautiful but I was not feeling beautiful at all.
"You look so gorgeous, Princess Xemein" one of the maids said.
Princess. The word raced through my mind. As the diamond earrings on my ears sparkled.
Princess Xemein. Heiress to Marjol Kingdom.
I took in deep breaths. Feeling my heart pound like a drum.
One thing my to-be-husband, the Dark Lord, didn't know was, was that this marriage was a ploy. A cover up for the mission his father, the King of Armalith (a very cruel man) sent me.
I was to murder the Dark Lord, Prince of Armalith Kingdom on or before six months time, in exchange for the freedom of my country men and women.
"Why me?" I asked the King "why not send an assassin?"
"If my son was that easy to kill, would I have any need of you?" he replied.
For the last six years of my life I've lived here in Armalith. Being raised as the 'adopted' daughter of nobleman Lyman Edgar. However, as you already know, I was born a princess. Future Queen of Marjol, a small fallen nation unlike Armalith (a vast nation).
Six years ago, my country was conquered, 'buried' and 'caged' with a powerful spell controlled by sorcerers, minions of king Randall, the Dark Lord's father.
The spell worked in a way that non-sorcery minds could not fully comprehend. But what mattered was, my people were still alive. Though imprisoned beneath the grounds of Marjol (the city currently looked empty with the people of other nations believing that the citizens of Marjol were wiped out by a deadly plague). The lives of my people were sustained by a life-giving charm, that would eventually run out in six months, causing my country men to die, if I failed to murder the Dark Lord within the time frame.
Hence, this was my secret.
No one but King Randall, Lyman Edgar and his household (spies for Randall) knew that I was the fallen princess. For I was marrying the prince as though it was another arranged marriage, where a highborn lady was simply chosen to wed a prince.
I looked at my left arm. Several lines marked it. Each line, indicating the number of days, my people have been bound by sorcery.
Right now, two thousand, one hundred and ninety short faint lines were there. I counted it every morning as a new line appeared.
I stroked the lines. Invisible to every other eyes except mine. And the moment, the marks of the lines reaches my neck, it meant all hope was lost. No chance for my people to ever be saved or freed.
I thought of my mum. My father. And two years old brother. Their lives all depended on what I did next.
Tears formed in my eye sockets. And a tear slid down my cheeks.
"Princess, we shouldn't waste more time. It's time for you to meet..."
I signalled her to keep quiet as I exhaled. And then, inhaled.
Xemein. You must not disappoint your loved ones.
And as I followed the maid out the door, one question lingered in my heart.
Will I fail or succeed?