Light tingles and airy kisses.
Awoken by the north winds of Armathis, I peel my eyes open and heave my torso upright. My senses awaken, heeding to the roar of rushing waters, a salvo of sound that pounds an endless crescendo. My body on automatic; I crawl out of the silky embrace of my bed and my feet meets with the cold platform. I glide down the glazed steps of the circular staircase, my crimson satin gown trails behind me in long wavy draws.
I walk straight ahead, the domed ceiling that looms high above leads to the hemispherical part of my chamber. Mounted on the ledge, there are four Ionic columns spaced out at wide intervals. The bordered ledge is ornamented with plush cushions for my comfort. At the neck of the columns are tall, billowing drapes, roused by the morning’s breath.
I slip up unto the ledge and nestle myself on its softened lap, my head leaning against the marble pillar. My dwelling, a Regnum, the Regnum of Valwa is crowned at the edge of obsidian mountain, at the crest of the Shire waterfall. Displaying me with a one-hundred-and eighty-degree exhibition of the Prime Province.
In between the chains of goliath highlands is the Eider valley, lapping with rolling hills with every hue, from new spring grass to deep forest pools of luxuriant foliage. Settlements of tribes and nomads sprawl across the fertile plain. Tributaries of fresh waters that the Shire waterfall provides, filling creeks, ravines and side streams for the multitudes below.
I crane my head to glimpse the abysmal depths of the Shire. Thick blankets of blue aluminium waters rain down. Its clamorous passage at the foot rages with white froth at the bottom, stirring a whooshing vortex at the bottom caused by the plummeting funnel of water from above. The cascade sieved with silver at the fringes.
Beyond in the east, the sun clings to the ridge, golden petals of light stretch outwards into the fiery blaze of a morning sky. Soon the entire valley floods with an auburn glow. I smile softly to myself, relishing in my evanescent solitude.
The gruelling groan of the byzantine door alerts me of a visitor. I don’t even bother looking, it’s usually Seliah, but this time I am wrong.
“Hera Aurora, your father has requested an audience with you,” Pinta, my head handmaiden says, and asks, “Shall I run your bath and retrieve your day wear.”
I discipline myself to keep my expression straight. Pinta knows I loath being called by my full title or by any term of respect, one in which I feel unfit to carry.
In the realm of Urium, segregated into the nine kingdoms of old, the class system prevails through the realm. There’s a simple yet heavily packed hierarchy. A monarchy reigns over each kingdom, but there is the High King and Queen who rules over us all.
The Pantheon, also known as the High King’s dominion, where the realm is governed under every edict that he issues that is overseen by the High Tribunal. A royal council of kings and queens where the fate of all is decided on a grand scale.
The Decuria, now that is where my family and I come in. The Decuria is a secondary court of law, which is where all principles and regulations are appealed and passed unto to the High Tribunal to be legitimised and made inedible. A court of politics where the realm’s welfare is discussed: from the upkeep of peace treaties, social turmoil, financial stability and variants of trade.
The Decuria is comprised of Domuses, Lords in their own right, Domuses of their Regnum and province like ministers. Domuses on their own, posses a wealth of lands across provinces and supply both towns and cities with sustenance and supplies that even the royals depend on.
The royals may have the authority to command, but their power comes from Domuses.
My father, Domus Valwa, is a member of the Decuria. Being the daughter of a Domus and Domina that makes me a Hera.
I rotate my head to look at Pinta standing in the doorway, staring back at me expectantly.
“Yes, please.” Moving aside my nightgown’s trail. “Will Seliah be there, too?”
Pinta shakes her heart-shaped head. “No,” she squeaks. “Only you were requested.”
Panic squirms in the pit of my stomach, but I pay it no attention. There’s no need to.
As said. Pinta prepares my bath and runs it until it brims with warm foam-covered water. The bath is snugged by the edge of my room’s corner, beside the ledge, with a breath-taking view of the sunrise. Whilst I lather my tawny skin with fine soap, gazing out into the distance. Pinta and two other handmaidens usher in my choice of wear, then a fourth enters and walks to my bed to strip it of its sheets, bundling them up to have it cleaned.
Pinta deposits a white, pima cotton towel at the foot of the bath. After, they all vacate my chamber. Once I’m finished, I slide forward to fetch the towel and stand to wipe myself dry. I climb out of the bath and stroll to the three faceless mannequins robed in my three choices.
I evaluate the dresses. The one on the right is crimson red, although my colour, it’s far too extravagant. The white is too pious and the last one. Well, it will have to do. Unclothing the mannequin on the left, I pour myself into the dress from bottom, up, gathering the light ruffles. The dress is our Regnum’s colours; royal blue and gold.
The garb itself is sleeveless with a modest open back, golden embroidery beaded on the chest of the dress with a V-shaped neckline and golden flecks dappled on the hem, all across the ends that spill onto the floor.
Tilting my head to the side, my ears hone in on a hollering voice, the shouts swell and soon it reaches my chambers. Seliah bursts through the one door and slams it closed with a heavy thud.
“My, my, what a vision you are,” she coos. Outfitted in a strapless turquoise dress that flows to her ankles, one that flatters the earthy undertones of her skin, a rich bronze like the afterglow of dusk. Her dark curly locks refused to be bound, so in the Regnum, she is free to liberate them.
“You always say that.”
“Because it is true,” she retorts.
Seliah saunters towards me and looks at me like I was looking at my dresses. “I heard father summoned you. And you alone.”
I laugh it off nervously and shrug. “The last time I was summoned is when you convinced me to escape the Regnum to attend the Night festival.”
Seliah snorts a wry laugh. “As if you needed convincing when Wren was waiting for you.” She adds a flair of melodrama to her expression. “Your prince charming, or I should I say pauper charming.”
I answer reflexively to Wren’s defence. “First off, Wren is a loyal companion of mine and second, just because he is not a nobleman, does not make him a pauper.”
“It does not make him a noble either,” she stresses. Her hybrid eyes continue to asses me, eyes that are half me and half foreign. “I see the way he looks at you, the way he is when he is around you.”
Intrigued, I entertain her qualm. “And how is that?”
She lifts her hand and twirls her finger to the ground, motioning for me to revolve. I roll her my eyes and comply, stopping once I face her again.
“Come and sit, let me do your hair.”
I walk back to the ledge, a grandiose balcony, and plop down on the verge, slanting my torso to one side. Seliah stands at my rear and combs her slender fingers through my hair.
“Wren is foolish by nature but when he is with you, his stupidity reaches new heights.”
I smile but contain my laugh; I don’t wish to give her the impression that she’s even marginally right about him or me.
“Your beauty bewitches, sister.” Her skilled fingers weave through my hair. “And no man is immune, the question is, do you feel drawn to him?”
Although Wren is older than I, he feels more like a younger brother. Our friendship blossomed through the years, during my daily trips to town and seepages to annual festivals. But not once did I feel anything more than just a friend towards him. Even if I did, because of his station and my nobility, our titles keep us worlds apart.
“No, I assure you. I feel nothing for him.”
The movement of my hair stills, holding onto a plait, she steps forward to peer into my eyes and examines the truth for herself.
The curse of twilight eyes.
Through every hue of my irises, it conveys my truest emotions. The lighter the hue, the happier I am, the darker the shade, the darker my resign. Seliah has mastered the skill of interpreting my eyes, more than I have, and every time she deduced. She was correct.
My eyes are naturally a light green, like a meadow varnished with the morning dew. But dependent on my emotions, they can travel from light shades of Caribbean blue to deep emerald green.
Seliah stares into my eyes and nods her head with content, retracting her head.
“Once in a while, it will not hurt for you to trust my word.”
She purposefully pulls on my hair, yanking my head back—ripping out an aggravated shout from me.
“There’s a reason I studied your eyes, because the truth never came from your mouth.”
She concludes and I stand up with a pout, I gently touch my hair and my fingers identify the style to be a crown braid. I mumble a thank you and I make a start towards the door with Seliah a step behind me on my right side.
My room is at the very end on the third landing of the west wing. Father’s favourite study is on the ground floor, near the front entrance. The Valwa Regnum houses eighty bedchambers, seventy bathrooms, twenty staterooms. With lounges speckled through the west and east wing, a dining hall, two main kitchens and a drawing room with an attached parlour and a ballroom for the social season.
The Regnum has stood for hundreds of cycles and through the ages it has been remodelled with each era, but the design has remained the same. The interior colour scheme is the same bright royal blue with threads of gold. The centennial, velvety wallpapers are all a lurid blue, its patterns interwoven with golden borders. The pearlescent floors are carpeted with runways of blue patterned coverlets.
“Are you anxious?” she asks from my rearguard.
“There’s no reason to be,” I say more to myself than to her.
Effortlessly navigating our way through the labyrinth of corridors to the main stairwell connecting all four landings. The protruding galleries all align with each other from the top until the bottom floor. Seliah and I make our descent.
We make our way down the foyer that opens to a hallway of history. Every fallen Valwa, their memory chiselled in stone with a lineage of pedestaled marble busts that line the flanks of the entry. Only the entire front entrance was forged in white alabaster, everything in sight immaculate with a strip of blue that runs on the persil white floor.
We reach the end and Seliah halts, whereas I continue to pass through the large venetian archway.
The library is great in size and impressive in stature. I walk down the wide pathway flanked by towering bookshelves that are lined in unending rows that seem to travel with me. The depth yawns ahead and the ceiling dares to brush the sky. The walls itself are lined with bookcases that go far beyond my reach, accessed by two spiral stairways in the corners.
The entire flooring is carpeted with a blue furry covering that tickles underfoot. Our Regnum’s library is a haven for every bibliophile with books to fit every preference. Our lineage is renowned for its aged wisdom, the blood of intellects. Over time, many have gleaned knowledge from the far corners of the realm: ancient texts, book of lore’s, mythical tomes and history books.
Now all that wisdom is stored here.
Eventually I reach the end, the pathway widens to an open spacious area with nothing but a furnished wooden desk in the centre, stacked with gilded tomes. Father stands before a bookcase with his back towards me, his eyes seem to search the spines of the books.
Looking for one in particular, but once again. I am wrong.
He whips around. A blurry flash—my instincts retaliate.
My hand snaps up from my side and I seize the dagger mid-air, the tip of the blade inches from my forehead. My grip tightens on the glass hilt and I glance at the bejewelled, golden rainguard.
“Remarkable, your instincts are as sharp as that dagger,” he says and slides a book into a profuse empty gap.
“I had good teachers. You wished to see me, father?” I drop my arm to my side, my finger rubbing against the hilt.
He rotates back around and faces me with a solemn look.
“Yes, daughter. But you will not like what I have to say.”