~A Veil Before Drawn Before the Stars~
“A butterfly pinned to the wall staring vacantly as people laugh and leisurely stroll by, I beat my hands bloody against my gilded cage. My screams are muffled, as if never uttered”–Anayissa
The backdrop of the evening sky, transplendent with fading whispers of pink, a smudge of dark blue and indigo, unveil a smattering of twinkling stars that can distract even the most skeptical eye. Impossible not to revert from the bowing weight of adulthood and stand foolishly upright as childlike wonder strikes with paranormal accuracy, Julia is tempted to take her finger and count the innumerable, impossible amount of stars; her mission to momentarily distract herself from a world that mercilessly implores to crumble around her and her loved ones.
Taking her eyes away from the window, Julia spots Laura in the corner, distractedly sewing a tear in one of Ana’s dressing gowns. The muslin, the shade of a maiden’s blush, lies across her lap is stark in contrast to the dull gray dress of the servant girl; yet it does not take away from her loveliness. Laura is a classic beauty; mesmerizing cerulean eyes that bespoke of sirens and legends and wheat gold hair, that when is not hidden underneath the linen cap, flows down to her shoulders, a cascade of sun-streaked hair that beacons even the most conservative to touch such a bounty.
Julia starts to blush, vexed with her unsuitable thoughts.
Laura looks up, finally noticing the approach of her dear friend and constant companion.
“Oh, Julia! I did not hear you enter,” she puts down the dressing gown, lazily setting it aside the arm of the chair as she stands up. Absently brushing fuzz from the front of her dress, she finally notices her friend’s distressed face. “What happens to be the matter Julia?”
Warming under the concerned gaze of her friend, Julia takes a deep breath before saying, “I am worried about Ana, Laura. She refuses to eat, it is like she is fading away.”
Julia usually brings her mistress her meals, normally greeted with a friendly smile and eventually taking away a customarily empty tray back to the kitchen. But as the dark days approached with unearthly speed, the castle walls have become stained black with the Princess’s despair. Julia had even once tried slipping a sweet treat–conscious of the princess’s love of paring a pastry with her afternoon tea–to help ease her from her stupor, but even the sensuous temptation of sweets can not bring back the exuberance that Julia once cherished and envied.
As any girl in the kingdom, Julia has always harbored jealousy towards the princess who worries for naught, has a closet bursting full with beautiful ball gowns, and a radiant beauty that is comparable to a storybook princess. When Julia was sent to work for the castle, the death of her older brother meaning that she needed to help her family financially, she had been beside herself to realize that she would be assigned the princess’s personal handmaiden. Furthermore when she met Princess Ana, there is still no proper or colligative string of words that she could utter as she was finally introduced to the most beautiful girl in the Four Kingdoms.
Because Ana is a royal, in accordance to Mycean tradition, her hair falls to her hips, a becoming shade of healthy, caramel with natural blonde highlights from the sun. Her tiara sat smartly atop her head, the sparkling diamonds winking at her, blinding Julia with the princess’s brilliance. Feeling like a speck of dirt compared to the princess’s radiance–who was sheathed in a dress a becoming shade of jade green–Julia knew at that moment, she was in love.
Not that type of love; she could never hope to be in love with a royal and garner mutual feelings but Julia could not help but tenaciously hold onto such tender feelings for her mistress; Princess Ana’s positive energy and quirky personality enthralling, reviving her with its vitality.
Nonetheless, ever since the engagement the Princess has refused to eat, locking herself in her rooms for the past few days. The mistress has always been kind to Julia and Laura, taking great pains to make them feel welcomed, thus, causing Julia to have affectionate feelings for the petite royal, but as the nuptials approach, and the Princess’s eyes become almost lifeless, Julia fears the same girl she had served only a few months ago, is gone from them forever.
Laura pales slightly, a frown spreading across her ultra-feminine features. “I know, I know but can you blame her? She is marrying that beast of a man. Did you see how tall he was? My God, it is not human to be that tall!” her voice rises with emotion.
Why is Laura so sensitive to the topic? Julia thought snidely, she’s allowed to be with the one she desires.
Looking towards the princess’s bedroom door, the door slightly parted, a wink of purple drapes and the sheer white canopy visible, Julia mutters, “Keep your voice down, Ana is asleep. We wouldn’t want to upset her even more.”
As if never having heard her request to lower her voice, Laura continues her passionate tirade. “Upset her even more?” she cries, “How is that even possible? She knows what type of man she is marrying–it’s there on her face every morning.”
“I know…. I just wish…” Julia’s voice trails off.
“I know how much you admire her, but it is has been hard on all of us.”
“She so beautiful, you know? ”
Julia does not mean only in appearance–though princess is a legendary beauty with her dazzling, wide smile and smooth, warm brown skin but those molten golden eyes that only know compassion, how will they look when she marries that brute?
The frown from Laura’s creamy skin smoothens into a charming smile, her dimples flashing as she talks. “Ana is strong Julia, you know this. That pig of a King– ”
“Laura–” Julia cuts her off in shock, her voice shriller than usual.
Ignoring her once again, Laura continues,“–lives to torture her but she never shows any weakness.”
“Laura, you make it sound so simple. What if you were forced to marry a man who wasn’t Maurice?” Was there a touch of contempt in Julia’s voice?
“…I–” The other girls face paling; Julia pretends to ignore the waves of warped pleasure at seeing Laura squirm.
“Exactly. So let’s stop our nattering and pray for our Princess.” Showing a rare flash of strength, Julia turns away from her best friend and the object of her desire; the sight of her pained features suddenly becomes too much for her to endure.
Walking towards the window, Julia looks out toward the small scattering of cottages, one containing Blacksmith LaFayette’s family. Smoke rising from the red bricked chimney, clogging the air with dense black, yet the sun’s eager rays find a way to penetrate the smog. Squinting, Julia spots a broad-shouldered figure with striking auburn hair. The strike of hammer meeting hot, malleable metal is parallel to a strike against her heart.
Bile rises up the back of her throat.
“Yes, pray.” Laura’ voice fades as the buzzing in Julia’s ears overwhelms her.
“Oh, Mycea the beautiful!
Cobalt blue and gold as far as the eye can see,
Fields and vines, may they always be fruitful,
Let the Lord shine his blessing on thee.
May our sons be born healthy and full of pride,
And our daughters beautiful,
Obedient, pious brides
Bear children to conquer and to be bountiful–
For we are the strongest of the Four Kingdoms,
May they ruin under our reign.
Oh, Mycea the beautiful!
Cobalt and gold as far as the eye can see,
Fields and vines, may they always be fruitful,
Let the Lord shine his blessing on thee!”
In the ruined streets of Tareriae, there are no wedding banners strung up that would indicate the upcoming royal nuptials. The absent blue and gold of the extravagant Mycea flag does not charm the descending sun. Grim-faced newsboys holler, “Read all about it! Princess marries the Wolf!” Gloom and hopelessness chokes the air and each gray face is bright with shame. Night approaches quickly and from the lowest of chambermaids to the richest of noblemen, look out to the castle where the Princess will save Mycea by marrying the savage Warlord of Rhageon.
Tonight, she will no longer be Anayissa Mirabella Francesca Rhyse de Cliousa, Princess of Mycea, daughter of King Harold Richersan Rhyse L’Allan de Cliousa and Queen Suzette Mirabella Ylena A’Deanetha-Lynne de Cliousa. In a few short hours, she will be the bride of Warlord Torien Ethelwulf Aldrake M’atheian of Rhageon, King of the Sands, Chosen of The Moon Goddess Lyceria, The Wolf.
The populace has already placed their bets on the cut and color of Ana’s wedding dress. “This will not be just any other dress”, they claim–Miss Victoria’s shop on Francesco Avenue will not have the privilege of creating such a masterpiece; this dress will be the most talked about topic throughout the Four Kingdoms.
For the past week, the Court has been abuzz with gossip and speculations. Though it is well-known that the princess is a partial pariah of court life, her complete absence and refusal to leave her chambers has caused a profound tizzy for the Ladies of the court. Ana’s vengeful twin cousins Madeline and Melanie spread their special poison to ready, eager ears. Wives of Barons, Viscounts, Earls, daughters of well-off merchants, and the rare oddity thrown in the mix–a visiting cousin from Aestha–her dark skin and penetrating and unsettling gray eyes almost transparent, marking her as elite, but not as elite as the royal family, famed for their snow-touched skin and crystalline eyes–readily partake in the daily gossip, adding threads to the devious tales without pity. Rumors spread like wildfire, growing as theories grow and become more insufferable and asinine until a bark of laughter could be heard from every corner. Ana cannot hear the taunting laughter but she can no longer hear or focus as time ticks on–her mind slowly becoming numb, drugged, as her head begins to feel it is disconnected from her neck.
Standing in her lightweight dressing robe, Ana’s eyes are vacant, absent of the Bride’s Light; the flushing cheeks and dreamy eyes that envision dresses intricate with lace and floral prints, and a beaming smile that could put the afternoon sun to shame.
Ana’s body is cold beneath the layers of silk and lace, her mind separates from her body as she watches her form be turned here-and-there from a grand, gaping distance.
Ana dumbly follows along as a team of servants lead her to the bathing room as they begin to prepare her for her “big day.” Lifting her arms and ducking her head as they lift her dressing robe over her, Ana ignores the sharp glances that unanimously zero-in on her bruises, scars, and recent cuts. The crushing shame that follows should have crippled her, caused her to cringe at their judgment but Ana’s resolve is steel, the rising panic spreading within her surmounting any other emotion. Ana stops when her knees touch the lip of the tub. Taking a step over the edge, Ana settles in and wraps her arms in a defensive pose. Ana seeps into the ready tub, steam wafting from the surface, idealistic rose petals floating whimsically across the surface. The warm bathwater licks up her skin, teasing her as she finally relaxes from her position and settles to the bottom of the deep tub.
The recent cuts sing a familiar, heart-wrenching tune as the angry welts meet the welcoming bathwater.
Resting her head back with her neck exposed to the air, Ana closes her eyes as the women, young and old, shampoo her long hair until it becomes waterlogged, scrub the dead skin with sea sponges, and attempt to massage the tension from her muscles.
The luxury would have been appreciated, desirable in most cases, if it were not the impending doom that stains the air with Ana’s panic, surmounting the serene moment.
The water becoming tepid, Ana rises from the tub. Looking down at her nude form, understanding dawns as she realizes that her untouched skin, unbeknownst to a man’s touch and passion, will never look the same as it does in this exact moment. Water drips from every angle and curve, her eyelashes flutter as a stray droplet clings to her eyelid. Will she lose the youthful softness that she once lamented over? She will reenter her rooms tonight a married woman, no longer the stumbling, awkward Anayissa who is still trying to her find her voice in a world overcrowded with masculine, overpowering voices.
Shaking but not from the cold air kissing her wet skin, a big, fluffy towel precipitously engulfs Ana and a gentle but stern hand guides her out of the tub and back into her bedchamber.
Patted down until her body is dry, another towel wraps around her hair. Ana stills before a large, rectangular mirror, her eyes dull as the preparation continues.
Lotions and creams are kneaded into her skin until she feels slippery, the sharp pinching follows as a servant kneels before Ana, holding a pair of tweezers with extreme concentration, agonizingly tweezes each and every stubborn hair from Ana’s legs, armpits, and embarrassingly enough, the springy, dark curls betwixt her thighs. Unable to hold in the flinch that follows with each pinch, Ana’s skin feels tender and raw and tingles in warning as the hot iron begins to heat, the smell of burnt hair poignant.
Dexterous fingers weave through Ana’s hair, designing tight, braids across her scalp, and another takes sections of Ana’s hair, winding the iron rod around her brown hair until it curls into place.
After what seems like hours, Ana is finally motioned to stand, her knees cracking from the prolonged sedentary position.
Layered like a cake, Ana’s mind drifts as the she steps into her basics–white, stretchy stocking and darling garters that attach to the corset. The vendors from an off-sight cove off the Arlenian Sea make the corset from whalebone. The stiffness of the undergarment corrects her posture upright and Ana catches her breath as the laces are tightened. Ana looks down as her small bust rises and becomes more beckoning to the eye and her figure is contorted into a mimicry of a hourglass figure. Stepping into a pair of airy, cotton drawers, Ana lifts her arms as a sleeveless, knee-length chemise and camisole hides her partially naked form, and two sets of petticoats, the latter fancier and embroidered. Furthermore, the pièce de résistance, the dress that will transform Ana from docile maiden to married woman bound to a life of altruism.
The servants hold out the dress as if they expect their princess to admire it. A wedding dress that will be remembered through the ages, the dress is draped elegantly in dark blue silk and the train speckled with gold-painted flowers. Beneath her bosom, a gold sash is tied behind her, clinching and drawing the eye to her tiny waistline. Lace sleeves, a train threaded with gold flowers that match the ones woven within her braids, Ana should have been held taken aback by the splendor of the magnificent dress.
Ana’s wedding dress was hastily made. This was not a marriage of love and armistice but of surrender and loss. The frantic looks in the team of seamstresses’ faces, bloody bandaged hands from rushed movements, had added a layer to her already building stress. Expected to impress the Warlord “woo him” with practiced demure charms, it was imperative that the dress could “seal the deal”. Spun with the finest silks, embedded with imported, shimmering jewels and midnight blue fabrics woven artfully through, Ana could not help but feel lost in the abundance of fabric, the dress making her feel hollow instead of radiant.
Normally, a wedding dress this chic and immaculate should have taken about six to eight months to make but because of the Warlord’s insistence that the wedding shall be of the time of the next full moon, a team of seamstresses and tailors were shipped from the ravaged metropolitan of Terrace. Having faced long sleepless days and nights, they were tasked with creating a dress that will triumph its dual purpose; renew the atrophied esteem of Mycea and courteously honor our conquerors, gambling they will not comment on this slight but legitimate form of rebellion.
Despite her original reluctance, Ana has to admit that she looks spectacular–a storybook princess that has come to life. Rubbing the slippery material between her fingers, she marvels at the contrast against her tanned skin.
Any other bride would have worn white, tis an honor for the Princess of Mycea to represent her country with her gown made of her country’s flag colors.
Staring dully at the women, the servants, after a strained pause, hurry along to put Ana in the dress.
The silk is weightless, as if spun with a spider’s web and soft as a lovers caress. Her dress is the shade of twilight, the hues of dark blue wrapping her in a cloth touched by the darkening sky.
Thankfully, the empire waist has resurfaced in the fashion world. Glaring balefully at her closet bursting with uncomfortable puffy-sleeved and many layered monstrosities, she whispers to the still air, “At least I will not faint on my wedding day, which is a blessing to Olliah himself,” as she stares into her mirror; three Ana’ stand before her, each appearing more wretched and forlorn than the last.
The archaic and cumbersome style of many layers, lengthy yards of material, puffy–extremely flammable sleeves, and irritating hats have been known to be the cause of many dizzy spells and headaches. Though she has never fainted at a function, it is plausible to imagine the stress of her dreaded wedding will be the catalyst to the decline in her health.
Praise Olliah, instead of it taking two painstakingly hours for her servants to dress her, it took half an hour–not including the hours of her intricate braids, the servants finish up Ana’s make-up–a deep rouge slashed across her cheeks like war paint, calamine and mint pressed on her lips to make them glossy, and full and a glittery eye shadow applied across her eyelids. Bowing to blind eyes and further dismissed by a mute tongue, Ana continues to stare at her reflection, hoping in vain to disappear as the servants scurry out.
The dress fits like a glove, hugging her supple curves suggestively despite the sleepless nights and the absences from dinner. Ana had refused to leave her rooms, terribly afraid of what she would find on the other side–believing that the whole world is laughing at her, the sharp tang of anxiety stole her breath, the fetid whispers of the Court and the mounting stress, making her delusional.
Many have probably surmised that she is preserving her chastity, ensuring all of her virtue for the Warlord but it went beyond silly things like tradition that has kept Ana bound to her bed.
It was this substantially heavy weight, gradually crushing her–her lungs, her heart, her head that has kept her in seclusion. Ana fears that without her corsets, she would have spilled across the floor a fortnight ago. But it was not only that–though Ana wishes it could have stopped there. It was a shadow that stuck from the deepest boughs of Hell that haunted her–whispering to her in the dead of night and even when her thoughts become so murky and dense like a forest from a gothic tale.
In her loneliest hours, Ana loses the fight against the darkness– a dense black becoming all she can see. The new moon of her life is a tragic thing, stealing her breath and the ruthlessly stripping the joy from her eyes. With her eyes, touched with darkness, colors are stolen until she can only see black and white. A blind existence with the gift of color, without hope radiating, has slowly driven Ana mad with unexplainable grief.
The battle within Ana has not been kind to her body, shouldering the weight of her daily struggles.
Remembering her recent visit at the Beaux Lavanté Museum in Terrace, Ana recollects the Perfect Woman statue, a willowy woman created from marble, smooth, slender lines and sharp angles instead of embracing the wonders of flesh. Ana had taken a closer look at the humanoid creature, peering at this beautiful piece of art with aversion. The woman trapped in marble looks down in submission, mane perfectly straight, and no carefree wisps of hair caressing her face. The young woman stared into the desolate eyes of the statue and could not find beauty in the essence of male domination.
Ana has never been a plump girl, but she did miss her softness, a small rebellion against her weight-conscious Papiee.
She looks slim, Ana contemplates, too slim. Running her hands down the soft curves beneath the wealth of fabric, she assesses that she has the type of figure all of the young debutantes aspire to achieve. Ana never had such superficial thoughts; she did not look at her body as a means to an end but woodenly and unattached–only as a vessel that performed the most basic of needs. She has seen aplenty of ambitious girls with braids still woven in their womanly updos, ashamedly throwing themselves at society’s most eligible bachelors.
Once Ana had believed she was the comeliest girl in Mycea. Her hair was famed for its luxurious length, her eyes a sparkling topaz, and her skin–her skin smooth like the most decadent caramel. Ana would wake early before the sky became a soft, dove gray, to stare at her reflecting figure–twisting her body here and fro in front of her mirror.
No longer the sophomoric, naïve girl who thought her budding breast and hips could grant her any wish, Ana is sullen to gaze at the young woman before her who doubts every inch of her flesh.
Julia’s concerned face flashing through her mind, Ana looks down at her concave stomach. She found it admirable how devoted her two favorite handmaidens were, their apprehension for her welfare was beyond proper protocol and tremendously heartrending. But that could not inspire Ana, convince her that her problems could not solely be solved with food.
Looking down to her right, Ana notices her tiara sitting queenly on her vanity table. Reaching for the intricate headpiece, the embedded lapis lazuli and diamonds winks at her as she turns it around in her hands. Looking back at her figure in the mirror, Ana gently places the tiara atop her head, watching the transformation devoid of emotion.
She quietly says to the mirror, “I look like a child’s fairytale princess, ethereal and unreal.” Ana wants to throw something at the mirror, freezing the image within and lock it away for eternity. She feels this incessant yearning to preserve this innocent duplicate of her, knowing that she will never resurface from her rooms the same way again.
Anger builds up inside of her, demanding to be let out and to seek justice for her forced helplessness.
Ana remembers the dolls she would dress as a child; their small faces staring blankly at her as she played. Trunks of dress, frills, and brushes arrived daily, accessories and toys that any Princess could ever ask for, yet they were not enough, could not give her the proper attention she needed.
She looks like a blank and lifeless doll, she realizes, designed for another pleasure but nothing else.
The lacework of the dress’ long-sleeves causes Ana’s old scars to itch. Bringing her left arm to the light, she notices how the older, white scars shyly poke through and the newer and rawer ones demand attention, standing out unabashedly against the blue fabric. Quickly pulling down the sleeve with great haste, her breath becomes irregular as a flush of pink rises to her cheeks. Spinning from the mirror, the mirror that told such lies, Ana freezes as she catches the sight of her diary that spoke of her cowardice.
Would the people cheer if they knew her shameful secret?
Despite the turmoil spreading throughout her body like a wildfire, Ana’s rooms and its lavish furniture, healthy potted plants, and Ringa, the narcoleptic black and white terrier sprawling on the raised and cushioned divan, are utterly detached from her musings. The total normalcy of the bedchamber mocks her, tempting her to disrupt it with the inner tempest rising within, daring Ana to throw a juvenile outburst.
Julia and Laura have left her alone, their pitiful looks flashing in her mind. The Queen, her belly swollen with her future sibling and gait uneven, understood Ana’s need for peace. Having been sent to King Harold unwillingly, Suzette is the only person who Ana can relate to.
Before leaving her daughter, Suzette caressed Ana’s face, sending her a bright yet wobbly smile.
“Be strong my snow cub,” she murmured.
“Oh Namieé, I wish I could uphold that amount of the confidence you have in me, “Ana had said to the closing door, her eyes filling up with unspent tears.
Jerking herself from her meditations, Ana looks into the mirror again, noticing the change in her appearance. Normally, Ana is known to be shining with health, her golden-brown skin smooth with clean lines, and quick to smile and laugh. But how drastic these few weeks have changed her! Pressing her fingers against her cheeks that have become pallid and sunken in.
Where did the Ana of a fortnight go? She has been replaced with an undead wraith of legends. She does not look like a blushing bride but as a felon sentenced to the gallows.
But does she receive a final request?
The full moon shines through Ana’s ornamented window, piercing through the rich mauve drapes, stroking her dress and skin until it entirely bathes her in the blinding light. Is the Rhageon’s moon goddess, Lyceria, mocking her? Instead of being comforted by the gentle rays, Ana starts to worry that the show of light is a warning.
Does she know that this marriage is a deception? By binding her life to her chosen, will it invoke Lyceria’s wrath?
Weighed down by her dark thoughts, Ana ignores the disdained look Ringa throws her way as she sits on her divan, uncaring how the dress upholds. If a few wrinkles holds sway on the Warlord’s decision, then Ana has a mind to roll around in mud to prevent the wedding in all.
Letting out a bodily sigh, Ana closes her eyes, trying to get a grip on reality. Remembering the talk with her Papiee and his advisors, it leaves a nasty taste in her mouth. The King and his most important men were cruel to her, threatening her if she does not succeed in seducing their conqueror.
Shaking her head, Ana says to herself, “You would think that my wedding day would have me up all night, imaging how my husband will look so dashing and regal. He would sweep me off my feet and kiss my lips , carry me away to a life of laughs and love ,” she ends with a faint smile.
Secretly, Ana had wished that her Papiee had permitted her to marry Fernando de Greyson-Ylena, son of the wealthiest merchant in Mycea. With his swarthy looks and debonair smile, one glance from his startling blue eyes had her heart beating like the wings of a hummingbird.
Maybe Fernando could have given me the life I wanted, she wondered, my knight in shinning armor to take me away from this gilded cage others would call a blessing.
But this is not some fairy tale, tis only her nightmare made flesh.
Marrying the notorious Warlord is the only way to keep the people of Mycea safe. So Ana bravely does not shy when she is poked at and prodded by anxious seamstress’s, protest as her face is pounded with powder, and feet shoved into pointy, unforgiving shoes.
It is time for the ceremony, but is she truly ready?
Akamae’s departing words continue to haunt Torien as he stares into the mirror. “Survive this and learn how to love again, god-nephew. Your mate will not accept you as you are now.”
The sudden chill that sweeps across the room goes unnoticed by Torien, who is transfixed with the new scars that grace his knuckles. A serving plate remains untouched and cold in the corner, the servant girl who left it darted out of the room once the task was finished, her alarm thick and palpable. To the unassuming girl, Torien is a monster who has most likely butchered her brother and or father in the days of recent.
His skin darker from his activities outside, Torien’s hands have always been large, broad with callouses from his unrelenting training with his jardee, but as of lately, he imagines the soft of his palm sticky with dried blood. Having bathed and then groomed by his own valet, Torien is conscious that there is not even a speck of dirt on his form but as the recent days play in his head, he cannot believe that the image will fade so easily.
Torien is heavy with guilt for the men who fell under his jardee, the echo of their agony stripping away his reserves. The latest war has taken away a chunk of Torien’s humanity in compromise, no longer does his dreams consist of victory, his people flushed with happiness and bellies swelled with food, but of a battlefield littered with broken, discarded bodies and the Goddess of Death, Bemarisse laughing as she dances with a freshly skinned corpse. Torien is a demi-god and dual-bodied, however, he can admit to falling victim to fatigue and the scars that litter his body like tattoos are testament to his slips in battle, yet with the magic he received from Akamae, the results were truly incomprehensible. Torien did not rest for the twelve days it took to conquer Mycea and nonetheless, he did not tire. Body alert with the power thrumming through him like waves, Torien was unstoppable, a one-man army that braved the frontlines without fear of quandary.
Nortega and the other generals attempted to consul him yet in the end, they could only join the ranks and stand back in awe at swift majesty of their Warlord. As Torien’s closet friend and genrys, Nortega had Torien’s ear and the ability to shake some sense into him when his stubbornness engulfed him but it is as if Torien was entrenched in a body of water, deaf to his friend’s warning. It was as if he was struck with this rage that could not be quenched until every battle was won. It was not a berserker madness that held his reins, but a calculating coldness that drove him beyond human. Emotions did not faze him nor did humility. But now, in the quiet room of the castle Torien sieged effortlessly, the emotions that have been set aside and building up assault him without mercy. A thousand screams of terror and pain ring his ears, his eyes stained red with slippery gore until he is blind, the rotting smell of decay lingers on his tongue, and each time he swallows to release a silent scream, the taste brings him back to the blood-slick battlefield at Constantine. A young soldier with fine, glistening armor and a riot of chestnut curls begged for mercy under the swing of Torien’s jardee, the whistle of the blade falling made him heedless and determined to the boy’s helpless pleas.
His Wolf, who is apathetic to the suffering of humans, especially humans who willingly picked up swords and shields and threatened his home, huffs and rolls his eyes at Torien’s human logic. To grieve for men who were willing to slaughter him is a waste of emotion in the Wolf’s eyes. So when the Wolf overtook Torien’s form during battle, his ferocity defied logic. The Wolf stands as tall as a bear on its hind legs, vicious with dagger-like teeth and claws that tore apart the armies and ripped limbs that spluttered fountains of blood, stunning with silver and white fur, and otherworldly with eyes swirling with mercury. It is impossible to determine who caused more casualties: Torien or the Wolf. Nonetheless both left a memorable impression. By the time the change overtook him and Torien reverted back to his human form, there would be soldiers frozen in shock at the terrors witnessed and the threat still evident before them and then drop their swords and flee. Cowards.
The Goddess and Mother of Flora had mentioned his mate, yet could a girl from Mycea, who has probably been tainted with poisonous lies by her father, be his destined Ysurria? As a demigod who is also dual-bodied, it has always seemed impossible for Torien to find a woman who will be his equal. A soul-pairing is a matter of equals; a courageous, warrior woman could comically find herself in the arms of a sensitive, renowned painter with a determination that shines bright as the stars. But for Torien, he doubts any man or woman could brave the storm within Torien that has yet dissipated since he drank the potion from Akamae. Power thrumming through him like a thousand drums; Torien fears that he will not be able to be gentle to his bride in the times to come.
Lyceria has been quiet, her form full and lovely in the clear night. Stars twinkle loyally in harmony to the brilliance of the full moon. Moonlight shoots out suddenly, the beam of light touching Torien’s face in an ethereal caress.
“My goddess,” Torien shuts his eyes, “what are your plans for me?”
Though Torien has learned the tongue of the gods, his patron goddess remains quiet, her energy a hum that pets his Wolf familiarly.
Torien feels the caress stroke his body with warmth. The Wolf, whose name used to be Apollo, once was the goddess’s guard and had been sent him down into Torien’s body to guide him. A friend before he spoke his first word, the Wolf trained him to be a better warrior who could shed his human skins and embrace the beast lurking within him.
A knocks interrupts the enchanted moment.
Opening his eyes, Torien says, “Enter, Nortega.” To his dismay, the moonbeam has faded, the touch of his goddess a mere murmur of memory.
Noriega enters to the sight of Torien’s turned back. Pausing before speaking, the second-in-command stares at the man who he calls his best friend and fears the stranger who has consumed him. The battle of yesterdays replay before Nortega’s eyes, the brutal killings of s’Nysurria had left him frozen with incredulity yet the look in his eyes, the ageless depth that was far from human, had chilled Nortega.
Swallowing the question of his tongue, Nortega says, “The time has come.”
“I am ready,” Torien replies stonily.