1 ~ T’seiryn
Dawn had just begun to spread its golden rays upon the slumbering nation of T’seiryn when Prince Jatech Mairon awoke with a sudden start that sent silk sheets flying in a brusque motion. “I won’t have it!” He declared in such a tone that it startled the morning guard into sudden alertness. Yet before they could do anything about it, Crestin Plingat, the Prince’s advisor opened the door to the Royal Bedroom and stepped inside.
“You won’t have what, Majesty?” He inquired with a keen sense of curiosity. It was not like the Prince to be so abruptly alert at this hour of the day.
“I will not be wed to that… That dull witted child!” Jatech replied as he leapt off the bed and approached his advisor.
Crestin’s brow rose in surprise, for all that he could have expected his Prince to say; it wasn’t that. Not after all of his hard work with negotiating and planning. What about the contracts and the treaties? “Y-you can’t be serious Jatech!” He exclaimed without giving pause to thought. “Think of your people! Think of your lands, your trade! In the name of the goddess please think of the trade!”
Jatech was completely astonished. “The Trade? This is not about the trade Crestin! I can swear to Brighid about that. This is about me, marrying a woman that I could never in a hundred years come to love.”
Crestin sighed as he watched Jatech pace angrily around his room. “Well that’s just fine; your line is known to live for two, sometimes three hundred years.”
A few seconds passed before Jatech came to a halt in his pacing. “Crestin I am serious!”
“So am I your majesty. Why don’t you sit down before you hurt yourself? Come, I’ll pick out something suitable for you to wear to breakfast.”
“No I will not sit down. I’m not going to have this, I am not marrying that woman, and I don’t care how precious you find the trade to be. That wretched Queen Pralyn Farlich can just find some other Queendom to trade with.” Finding his energy depleted for the moment, he flopped himself down into the closest cushioned chair.
Jatech’s statement brought Crestin to a halt as well, his hands closing tightly upon the shirt he’d been considering as part of an acceptable outfit for today’s breakfast. “That’s just it Jatech, this isn’t Queendom right now. Your mother has been in the grave for one month, and you are holding onto this position by mere silky thin threads.” As he said this, he wrapped his finger around a loose thread in the shirt he’d been smoothing out. “One wrong step.” A sharp tug was given to the captive thread. “And a thread will snap, potentially bringing other threads with it.” Case and point, what he thought was a single flaw in the shirt proved to be larger as more threads popped free. Well, that one wasn’t going to do, time to find another.
Having been silently watching his advisor Jatech let loose a heavy sigh, laden with oh so many thoughts and concerns. “I do have one year to wed before I can be properly displaced and forced into a marriage.”
Crestin pulled another shirt from the wardrobe and compared it to the pants he’d brought out previously. “You know you don’t want to put yourself up on that auction block Jatech. You’ll end up with the daughter of whatever Queendom manages to put up the best fight… Which, believe me, is not going to be the best decision for you, nor for your people. Think of Fahrei. What future will Fahrei have? What future will T’seiryn have, if its largest seat of power goes to the highest bidder?”
“I know you’re right Crestin, but I’m not marrying Pralyn’s daughter. Did you even spend any time with that woman?”
“In all honesty, I tried not to,” Crestin mumbled as he finished setting out Jatech’s attire for the day. “Get dressed, breakfast will be ready soon.”
A smirk caught upon Jatech’s face as he just managed to catch what Crestin had said. “This conversation isn’t over you do know.”
Now it was Crestin’s turn to sigh as he made for the door. “Of course it isn’t. I’ll start writing up a scroll to send to Queen Farlich as soon as I put some food in my stomach. You’ll be signing it too, so don’t think you’re running off after breakfast never to be seen until sometime after dark.”
Jatech tried his best to look injured. “You hurt my feelings Crestin.” He placed a hand over his heart. “I promise to stick around and sign your precious scroll before I vanish into the vast hills of my fine Queendom.”
Crestin smirked as he bowed and made his departure from the Royal Bedroom. Something told him that this wasn’t going to be the only problem he was going to encounter today, there was an odd feeling floating on the breeze. The servants and guards could feel it too, and it was putting the entire palace on edge.
2 ~ Varecht
Golden rays of midday sun filtered lazily into a lush, well-kept garden where a woman sat comfortably amid its pleasant silence. This was one of her most favorite places to be, out of the way, out of sight and under orders not to be pestered by the Castle’s servants. Here she could be alone, lost in her own thoughts and undisturbed amongst the glory of nature. At least she thought she could be, but the appearance of a looming shadow blocking the light from her eyes said otherwise.
Now normally the woman would have turned her head and sought out the meaning of this disturbance, but the shadow’s slight size had given the answer to her already. “What can I help you with Serrala? You’ve gone and cut the silence a bit short today.”
There was a moment of silence before Serrala bent herself in a low curtsey, the rustle of silk and the momentary return of sunlight within the woman’s vision the only indication she’d done so. “I am indeed sorry my Queen, but you know what the King thinks about you staying too late out here. He’s made me come and fetch you; dinner has been ready for ten minutes now.”
“Oh by the love of blessed Danu how could you not have come to get me sooner?” The woman inquired with a sudden sense of alarm. Being late for dinner wasn’t acceptable, not in the slightest bit. Thus, she immediately pushed herself into a standing position and smoothed out the thin spongy fabric of her gown. Not that it made much difference it hardly ever wrinkled.
Serrala made a quick step to the side as she watched her friend fiddle with her attire before finally giving into the urge to help her. “Ashise, calm down, you’re not that late. I would have come sooner but some of the soldiers were causing a ruckus in the kitchens. The whole evening meal was almost late in its preparations and you know as well as I do that that would have been even more unacceptable than your tardiness. Here, calm down let me just tuck this here and that there, good. Your stunning as always, now let’s go.”
Ashise couldn’t help but smile as she gave Serrala a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, you always do seem to be more on top of the problems around here then I am.”
“That’s my job. I am your royal advisor now aren’t I?” Serrala replied as she followed her queen down the castle’s open sand stone hallways. The trip to the meal hall would be short from the gardens, but Ashise seemed determined to make it even shorter, forcing Serrala to all but jog in order to keep up. Perhaps she had good reason to have moved so quickly, for once they entered the meal hall they had to deal with the king. He’d been sitting down for fifteen minutes now, waiting. When the king waited everyone waited, forcing servants ready to begin serving the evening meal to linger in the doorway to the kitchen with dinner plates in hand.
“Where were you?” The King inquired in a tone that echoed briefly within the open space before them. He wasn’t pleased.
Flushing embarrassment Ashise stopped just beside her husband, executing a quick curtsey before kneeling on the floor. “I am sorry, I had to prepare for dinner my Lord,” she replied in a soft tone as Serrala stood against the wall behind the king’s chair. “Some men were causing problems in the kitchen and I managed to get food on the dress I had put on this morning.”
“Lies!” He shouted as he raised a hand and slapped her hard across the face, the force of the blow causing her to tumble unceremoniously to the floor. “You were in the gardens. Your clothing smells of flowers, and there is soil on the hem of your gown.”
It took every effort for Ashise to keep herself from crying at that very moment. She had expected he would know where she was, he always knew where she was, now she didn’t even know what she could say to him. The entire left side of her face was afire with the shock of having been struck. “I, I am sorry My Lord,” she finally managed to get out in a quiet, yet steady voice. “It won’t happen again I promise you.”
“Your straight it won’t! For if it does, I’ll have the gardens locked off. If you can’t manage to show up on time for dinner when you visit them; then I’ll simply take that distraction away. Now get up, it is time we ate.”
“Yes My Lord.” She replied quietly while rising to her feet. Once she managed to settle herself down in her chair, the servants moved in, quickly filling the table with food.
3 ~ Fahrei
Breakfast had passed by without incident, and the scroll Crestin wanted him to sign had been well in order. He knew that Crestin would be able to wrap things up with Queen Farlich without much intervention from him, so now he was on his own, free to do what he felt necessary for the day. This was to say, not much. When his mother had first passed away, Jatech had found himself up to his eyeballs in things to do, leaving him with very little time to himself, and even less time to grieve over her loss.
Being his mother’s only child left him standing up as the sole regent for her Queendom, and thrust him head first into a brand new way of living. One, which Queen Farlich had been first in line to pounce upon, though she wouldn’t be the last, If he didn’t pick a wife within a year of his mother’s death he would basically become merchandise. Nothing more than a bonus package that came along with a seat of power that out weighed every Queendom on the planet of Satenyi. For you see men didn’t hold much sway in Satenyi. In fact, if women didn’t need them to procreate they probably would have banished all men from the planet long ago.
This was due to their belief that all men were evil; they had short tempers and poor judgment. Men destroy men seek to conquer. His instructors had pounded these things into his head when he was a boy. But what did it matter? He didn’t really believe the things he’d been taught. He knew deep down in his heart that if he could find the right woman he could ensure his mother’s Queendom good fortune for two or three hundred more years, or longer, if he gave his wife a daughter.
All he needed was the time to review all the offers that were out there, time to find his Queendom a ruler they could be proud of. Why he ever agreed to marry Pralyn’s daughter in the first place was beyond him, the woman really was dull. Sure, she had looks, but there was something about her that just didn’t sit right with him, something that swayed him against binding his life to hers in marriage. He didn’t know what it was, but it was enough to send him away from the gilded walls of his palace and into surrounding jungle, where he set to work on clearing himself a path through the thick vegetation.
Out here, he would be able to be alone, and to think about things on his own time, away from the bustle of palace life. Sure, a stealthy guard or two were probably following him, but he didn’t care. Today he was going to take the time to just be himself and perhaps even grieve over the loss of his beloved mother. There was nothing that was going to keep him away from his solitude, nor the comforts of the cool mountain pool that he was headed for. Today he would even enjoy the roar of the waterfalls that fed into the pool, for no matter how loud the water was it would never think to call him prince and pester him about his royal duties.
4 ~ Elyant
For a solid hour, the only sounds to be heard inside the king’s dining room came from the casual scrape of eating utensils upon fine china, and the occasional shuffle of a guard or servant. The earlier events had soured the desire for conversation between king and queen, and kept them both utterly silent until the king, having finished with his dinner, excused himself from the room.
“Oh Ashise!” Serrala exclaimed as her friend instantly burst into tears the moment the king had gone. “Hush now, you’ll be alright.”
“Why does Saven have to be like that?” Ashise stammered through her tears as Serrala came forward and began to wipe her cheeks with a napkin.
“Why does any man do the things he does?” Serrala replied helplessly. “I think it is quite impossible for a woman to understand the actions of any man.”
Serrala was right, and Ashise knew it. As a woman living on Varecht, she was property, and had been sold off to Saven for trade and gold. She had no say in the way she was treated, no one cared if she didn’t understand Saven, or hated him down to her very core. Especially not in the sovereign city of Elyant, where the High King, Saven Cerais ruled over all the lesser kings, like her father, with an iron fist and no head for justice. In the year that she had been married to Saven, she had only crossed him five times, yet a day hardly went by where he didn’t find some reason to hit her, be it warranted or not.
In fact, Saven beat her so often; the castle guards were taking bets on just how long it would take him to kill her. Of all the people in her life, Serrala was the only true friend that she could count on through anything, the only one who cared whether she lived or died. Even now, while Ashise had been lost in thought, Serrala had managed to get her to her feet and was walking her silently through the castle halls toward her personal quarters. The fact that she had done this without Ashise even having noticed was testament to just how marvelous a friend she was.
Once the two of them had entered her room, she sat herself down upon a pile of cushions that were spread out before the open window, and allowed her gaze to settle out over the rolling hills of sand that surrounded the Castle she was forced to call home. It was said, that Varecht had once been a land of green, rich in magic and prosperity. However, two thousand years ago there had been a great war that had violated the very earth itself when two contending kings attempted to rip the sacred, nurturing magic from the soil and to use it for other deeds. Deeds so foul that the Great Mother Danu herself had manifested and withdrew the power from them.
Varecht was not a land of green after that. As punishment for what the men had thought to do, Danu had turned the earth against them, changing fertile soil into worthless sand and leaving the people with precious few plots of land upon which to grow their crops. As further punishment, Danu then decided to bestow the remaining quantities of magic only unto the women of Varecht. Leaving them with a precious gift to be guarded and used with caution, that no man may ever lay his hands upon it. Sadly, this gift turned out to not be a blessing, but a curse for the women of Varecht, for the men of the realm have been making the women pay for it ever since.
From that day on the women of Varecht were subject to being beaten, raped, shackled with chains, and shut off from the world around them. Even to this day, women are not seen outside of their houses unless they are in the company of a man. Girl children are kept locked away until such a time as their fathers see fit to be rid of them. Some of them are handed off as wives, others sold as slaves and servants.
In this matter of exchange, some might consider Ashise lucky. She was born to a lesser king and not forced to live as other women do. Her flesh had never been marred by the cold embrace of a pair of shackles. Her movements never restricted to the confines of the castle she had been born within. Nonetheless, when she had turned twenty her father had sold her to Saven so that she could become his third wife, and thus turned her happy life into a nightmare.
“You are going to become ill if you don’t close these shutters and move away from that window,” Serrala’s voice chided as she moved to close them for her. This sudden movement effectively brought Ashise back into the present and she turned to watch Serrala lighting the candles in her room. How long had she sat there in silent contemplation? A quick glance toward her window told her the sun was gone for the day, which meant in a few hours time she could expect Saven to be calling upon her to join him in his bed.
“Do you want me to stay with you until he calls?” Serrala asked with genuine concern for her friend’s well being. When Ashise had been married off to Saven she had come to Elyant with her, having been Ashise’s friend and advisor as far back as she could recall. Now she was watching her one true friend slowly slip away at the hand of the man to whom she had been married.
“No, not tonight Serrala,” Ashise replied with a smile of genuine appreciation. The bond between the two of them would never be severed. “I think I want to be alone tonight.”
“Alright, as you wish.” She did not like it, but she was not going to go against Ashise’s wishes, especially since she would probably be the one Saven would send after her anyway. Therefore, with a quick curtsey she moved to the door and disappeared into the hall.
Once alone, Ashise quickly lifted herself up off the cushions and moved to a chest at the foot of her bed. Once there she produced a small key from the sole of her shoe and slipped it into the keyhole at the front of the chest, slowly opening the lid. Inside she kept a bunch of mementos from her old home, small paintings, articles of clothing, keepsakes and other items. However, the most precious thing in the chest was an old leather bound book of spells, passed down through the women in her family.
Most of the spells didn’t amount to much beyond tricks and illusions, but there were other spells in the book, spells of transportation, and of conjuring. Spells that could actually cause some damage if the skill to master them could ever be obtained, though of all the women in her family only her grandmother had ever come close, and the attempt had effectively killed her. Tonight, Ashise planned to try the very spell that had been her grandmother’s undoing, though something inside her told her she could handle it.
The intended spell was one of transportation. A spell designed to take one from where they were to some place else, and though the details of the spell were vague, with the book not saying where this other place was; Ashise had made up her mind to try it anyway. She knew it was perilous, but the way she figured it, anywhere was better than here. So she picked up the book, brought it back to the cushions she occupied earlier, and sat down with the book nestled in her lap. Slowly, as she had been told to do by her mother, she closed her eyes and began the process to center herself, becoming completely at peace with that which was around her.
When she was completely ready, she began to work the words of the spell over in her head. The process was slow, but eventually she found them, her mind’s eye seeing that which her physical body presently did not. The words then were softly issued out into the night air… “Ashari, Veinu, Rasun, Ey Osa Dantu, su Catumai.” Repeatedly she said those words as she felt the air about her begin to pick up, swirling and caressing her body like a mother holds her child. Then suddenly, those winds changed to that of a tempest, threatening to tear the very cloth from her skin until, as quickly, as they had come they left, leaving her with the unmistakable sensation of falling.
5 ~ Fahrei
Jatech had been swimming a good hour or two when suddenly; in the air above him, he heard an odd sound. It was a sound not unlike a human scream, high pitched and filled with fright, but before he could pull himself out of the water to go in search of its source his sight was caught by something falling straight for where he was floating. This of course caused him to move himself off to the right with scarce a moment to spare before the form of a woman dropped from the sky and plunged deep into the depth of the pool.
He was quite alarmed, and when the woman failed to come back up, he immediately dove down after her, his hands quickly grabbing her by one arm as he dragged her to the surface. That was only half of it however, because she was quite obviously unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. Yeah, he’d had a feeling she had fallen from too far up to dive down safely. But then, just where had she come from anyway?
It took him a little bit of effort but eventually he managed to pull both of their forms up out of the water and paused to clear out her airway, until her body automatically began to breathe on its own. With that taken care of, he dashed off to where he’d left his clothing and got himself dressed, not once taking his eyes off of her. The woman herself was of a decent size, perhaps five foot, five inches in height, possibly in her twenties, and was wearing a spongy garment done up in a style he’d never before seen. She had dark auburn hair, and her skin was tan as if she spent a lot of time in the sun. It was possible she belonged to one of the families in the city, but he wouldn’t know for sure until he could get her back to the palace, and have the guards start asking around.
The trek back to the palace took him the better part of an hour, with the unaccustomed weight of the woman proving to make the steep paths a bit harder to navigate. But he had managed to only trip and fall once, earning him a tear in his pants, and scraping some of the skin off the woman’s shoulder. Fortunately, once he was in sight of the palace he was able to pick up his pace a little, moving more freely upon the well-worn road leading up to one of the side gates.
As anticipated, he’d been seen coming from a ways down the road and immediately two guards rushed out to meet him. “Sire, what has happened here?” One of them inquired with a worried glance toward the woman.
“I don’t know, it was the oddest thing, I was swimming in pool I’d found up the mountain when all of the sudden this woman fell from the sky.” That was where he paused, that sounded a bit insane didn’t it? “Well, she must have dove off the waterfall, but she came from too high up. She hit the bottom of the pool and struck her head.” He shifted her weight awkwardly. “Help me get her inside would you?”
As odd, as it seemed the guards were hard pressed to argue against him, and quickly took the woman from his arms to carry her inside the palace. Once within, Jatech ordered she be put in a guest bedroom and that his own personal physician be called upon to tend to her. Fortunately for the woman, his physician was female, something he’d always hated when he was growing up.
After a short while, his physician arrived at the guest room where he’d had the woman placed, and was nearly knocked over by a panicked Crestin. “Oh dear Brighid you’re alright! But then why did the guards have me summon up your, oh.” Brought to a short stop Crestin looked at the woman lying unconscious upon the guest bed. “Well, who is she?”
“I was hoping you could tell me that,” Jatech replied with a sigh as he watched the physician begin to look at the woman. “You’ve never seen her in the city before?”
“No, I can’t say that I have, she doesn’t look familiar at all. Not to mention that outfit…” Crestin tilted his head a moment in thought before suddenly he remembered where he’d seen an outfit like that before, his face immediately going pale.
“What?” Jatech asked in alarm as he noted the look on Crestin’s face. “What’s wrong? Do you know this girl?”
“No. It’s nothing, I’m going to go look at some records, see if I bring up anything that could hint to her identity; a birth note, something. Let me know when she wakes up, eh?”
Jatech gave him an absent nod as the doctor continued to work on the woman. “Is she going to be alright?”
“It’s hard to say, I don’t think she bumped her head too hard though. She should wake up within an hour, in the meantime keep her head bandaged and get her out of those wet clothes. I’ll send my assistant to check up on her in an hour or so,” the doctor replied in a curt manner. “You say she fell and hit her head at the bottom of a pool?”
“Yeah, why is there something else amiss with her?” He inquired with a raise of his brow. She wasn’t trying to blame this on him now was she?
“No. It’s nothing really; just she has a light bruise here…” She indicated the woman’s left cheek with her finger. “It is like she’s been struck upside the head, perhaps with someone’s hand, or maybe a board. But it’s nothing more than a bruise.”
“Huh. Well I suppose that’s another thing to find out when she wakes up now isn’t it. I hadn’t noticed that until just now.”
“Yes it’s faint; someone must have backhanded her for some reason or another. You’ll let me know what you find? I don’t want who ever did that to her to go unpunished.”
He gave the doctor a nod of his head before replying. “Yes, of course.”