Chapter 6: The Wolf and the Whore

~The Wolf and the Whore~

“A domineering woman; unyielding and beautiful, Namieé is like the fierce snow cats from her homeland Aestha. But with every snow cat, there is an avaricious hunter ready to skin her pelt”–Anayissa

The heir of Brandenshire, Lord Hevana-Tresvor hacks gracelessly into his monogrammed handkerchief, the unpleasant sound ricocheting and bringing the attention to the surrounding seated guest.

Lady Annabel Ambrose raises her imported Frysessa fan to her lips in disdain. “How distasteful,” she murmurs behind her fluttering fan, the plush colors of red and purple vibrant against her unlined, porcelain skin. “One would think that he would know not to dabble too heavily in Friesian tobacco,” Annabel continues, batting her eyelashes at her companion, Duke of Yulina, Lord Darius Junesphire.

Lady Ambrose’s husband snores noisily to the left, jowls glistening under the candlelight, spotlighting his clumsy hands’ trek towards the knee of his young mistress also scandalously in attendance.

Lord Junesphire’s startling amber eyes framed with thick black lashes drolly stares off into the distance. “Hmm, why yes.”

Disregarding his nonplussed response, Annabel sniffs and closes her fan dramatically, turning her wrist in a practiced fashion. Her green eyes, once crowed for its likeness to a fresh-cut emerald, narrows with displeasure.

“Oh, what a bore! Why must we pay our respect to that unpleasant girl? I am not surprised that the King did not hesitate to offer up that horrid daughter of his. What a snotty thing, you know? Thinks she is too good for anybody–serves her right.”

Finally snagging Lord Junesphire’s attention, he looks down at his companion, a smirk spreading across his chiseled, handsome features.

“I have a friend who says that he saw the Princess looking deliciously disheveled while leaving Lord Faison’s party last evening,” he pauses, “Well, I already knew the Princess had a it bad like a bitch in heat, so it’s not a surprise to me. She did all but beg me to come up to my rooms during the Betroxia Ball.”

Nothing excites Annabel anymore than gossip, the suspense of others life in her hands, a high that can never completely satisfy her. Green eyes becoming bright with emotion, Lady Ambrose says excitedly, “Oh, I knew it! She refused to attend to my luncheon a fortnight ago. Said she had a headache, ha! The maid said she saw her flirting with my nephew. ”

“I hope that barbarous King gives her what she deserves.”

The two halt their conversation as excitement fills the air; Lord Junesphire returns to staring contemptuously off into the distance while Lady Annabel surveys the approaching party with a gamine smile spread generally across her fine features.

Ana never felt comforted by the daunting portraits of her ancestors. She is of royal birth, expected to be honored by her lineage and preen that she is able to trace her family tree to the original settlers of Mycea. Clutching the cloak that hides the magnificence of her gown tighter, she took in their blank eternal faces, fearful of their eyes that hold immortal rejection.

The painting of her ancestor Daniel Rhyse de Cliousa reveals a handsome man with an earnest face. A slim mustache graces Daniel’s unsmiling face, making his tan skin–the famed de Cliousa skin–seem darker. Standing erect and lavishly baring the finest luxuries, the portrait is painted with bold, elegant dashes. It is almost undetectable but the portrait next to the First King of Lucian Rhyse Bastille is superior in every possible way. The frame is more ornate, the oils used for the paint is finer, each stroke smoother, and the attention to detail, is truly extraordinary–almost rivaling the splendor of a Fey’s artwork. General Luc is painted in an upright, conquering position and fashioned in his honorable military garb. It is truly discernable that despite Daniel bearing the coveted title, Lucian had the heart and love of the majority.

Faces are immortalized in the Hall of Portraits, theirs, along with rows of unsmiling tan faces and dark, striking eyes follow Ana as she makes way to the chapel. The soft tap of Ana’s soft-heeled shoes and the whisper of the hem of her wedding dress disrupts the heavy silence as she start to become edgy with the tension, the desire to flee almost stifling.

Sir Fredrick walks adjacent to her, his russet hair compliments his strong, broad features. His eyes are green; green as the first buds that frost surrenders to spring. He does look Ana’s way but she can imagine he feels the weight of her heavy-lidded gaze. She is two years his junior yet she never felt the rift in age and experience as she felt a thread of connection and warmth last season in his friendly eyes.

One of her personal guards, Fredrick, has been a friend of sorts, a type of male friend that a virginal princess can ever suitably have. Except for Caleb, whose tragic death that has rocked Ana completely, Ana’s male cousins are mere strangers to her, far too busy with their machismo lives, which are filled with opportunities Ana can only dream to ever pursue. Ana refuses to marry a relation, so why would they waste their time with her?

Fredrick, like Frances, is a face that she will always remember for his unearthed acts of kindness. Yet, there have been times where Ana wished he could have been more. His spring bud eyes meet hers now, the heavy weight of her gaze has penetrated his careful reserve and she cannot help but be transported back to a humid, swentaa day, where hormones raged and she became drunk on sophomoric wonder.

Under the haze of a picturesque summer evening, the fireflies framed the young man’s arresting face, his charming auburn curls, and a smile that blinded as he caught sight of Ana’s flushed face. The day is imprinted on her mind; the heightened senses made her in tune with his heartbeat, the rising flush in his cheeks, the way his chest rose up and down as they came closer in this mad harmony. It was thrilling, this hushed, surreptitious moment before their lips touched. Under the fan of a nearby tree, the two kissed in the veiled pocket of the garden, her sighs loud in the black of the upcoming night. Overwhelmed with havoc, new feelings, Ana was struck with confidence, a latent, defiant faction lost within her brought to light. So like every young girl with passion on her mind and desperation for someone to truly care for in her eyes, Ana foolishly used Fredrick, not caring for the repercussions and unaware that while she was swept in these tantalizing, world-shaking feelings, Fredrick was unresponsive as fear froze him in their embrace.

It was as she drew a knife on him.

Sweating like a condemned man, Fredrick begged her to get away from him, his muscles straining as he tried to back away from her reckless advances.

Running his hands through his hair, his hands shaking, Fredrick sent her an anxious smile. “Princess, please do not let your father know! I will be punished!”

Her passion, her hope, and every emotion that surged through her wilted like a flower.

“I–” Her face flushing with red hot shame, Ana does not remember what excuse she made but she had run away as fast as her silk slippers could carry her. Locked in her room, Ana cried helplessly as she felt the walls in her room become closer, resembling more of a cage than a lavish bedchamber.

At first, Ana wanted to blame Fredrick for his cowardly weakness. What kind of man is he? She demanded. He would flirt with her occasionally, staring at Ana with the flush of youth in his lovely eyes that spoke of freedom and desire.

Aren’t men supposed to be fearless? She screamed. If he had loved her, he would have never been daunted the King’s power.

What kind of man plays with the affections of the young and innocent? All men, I suppose, will always demand but never deliver.

He is supposed to be one of brave knights of legends that little girls cling to with desperation. If he cannot save Ana from her cage, a brave soldier of prestige and admiration, then who can?

But as Ana’s ire had cooled, the moon was bright against the backdrop of the purest of blacks, glowing around her as if protecting her from her dark thoughts with its light–reminding her that there are worlds, adventures that she has untouched and people odd and peculiar she has yet made the acquaintance of.

The memory fades as reality reorients and Ana’s eye catch Fredrick’s spring bud eyes on her. Fredrick quickly swivels his head back in line, a flush rising becomingly to his cheeks. Before that inopportune kiss, Ana would have begged him to reconsider and asked him to fight for her; but no more–no more begging.

Ana mourns the loss of her innocence unaware that she has already taken the first step to fulfilling her destiny. Ana rights her head as the formidable doors approaches closer, every step more strenuous than the other.

Passing through the courtyard, almost blind to the meticulous, magnificence of the wedding embellishments, Ana is truly blind as her vision becomes narrow. Dusk has settled, the night-sky a deep indigo with fading traces of pink catch Ana’s eye. Eyes trained forward, Ana does not recall the journey to the ceremony, 
nor do she remember the dazzling chandeliers, hand-picked lilies from the Queens gardens, the vast number of wild flowers brought from Rhageon–as if the abundance of the country’s famed flower could sway the Warlord’s judgment—but she cannot overlook the ostentatious glare of the abundant jewels of the aristocracy that cannot dim their matching shrewd glares. Ana has to remind herself that the people gathered around the atrium are not important enough to receive invitations to her wedding but were still high enough on the wrung of the societal ladder to come to the reception. Clutching her cloak tighter, Ana knows that any of the assembled party would sell their soul to be inside as she revealed her gown.

Ana feigns deafness as the abundance of whispers finally reach her ears and she finds the strength from within to not flinch at the biting words that cut into her scarred skin.

“The little bitch better please him–”

“If she fails, Mycea will be lost–”

“I heard that the Wolf likes them young–”

Her breath starts to become uneven and gray spots start to fill her vision. How can they be so cruel, she wonders, she is one of their own yet they cannot quash their hate-filled hearts as they cheer for her demise. The style of dress was never the problem that escalated her health; it is the threat of the double-edged sword of betrayal that cut through her defenses.

Ana smiles wider, it would infuriate her more if the vipers were to see her not waver from their poisonous bites.

Some will call Ana a hero but to others, those insidious voices filled with the rankest of hate, call her their whore. But is that not the right terminology? Ana’s papiee gifts the Warlord with her untouched virgin flesh to save her country, does that indeed make her their whore?

A rock settles in her stomach and she experiences the surreal feeling as if she is falling. But who will catch her as she falls?

Ana spots a group of ladies, two-faced courtiers, rouged and sly courtesans, richly dressed daughters and wives of the wealthiest noblemen and merchants in Mycea. Their faces are drawn in identical masks of scorn and disgust, the cruelty and disdain in their eyes tremendously unsettling.

How can a person–no a woman– not feel empathetic? Women are not given the choice on whom to marry, is she the sole observer of women’s oppression? Are the Lady and Misses truly content with their gilded cages or do they perform their roles with expert ease?

Wading through the sea of disapproving faces, Ana is saved as she finally recognizes two familiar faces standing off to the side, away from the group. Her mood brightening, Ana smiles in greeting as she catches the eyes of her former playmates Misses Bridgett Whistlethorne and Glorissa Abbydurse. Ah! To view a pair of faces without a stich of scorn is utterly refreshing.

Ana waves suddenly, onlookers take notice and the buzz of gossip thickens.

Swentaa summer days of riding ponies and stealing sweet cakes from the kitchen fills Ana’s mind with much needed bubbly happiness. Oh, how Ana misses those days of frivolity and friendship that seemed so eternal and innocent. Yet the happiest memories are the hardest to forget and can bring the sharpest of pains.

Those pleasant memories begin to fade as Ana recalls the clause of the end of their friendship: the King. Ever a stickler for her demise, Ana’s Papiee did not approve of the wildness she and friend’s participated in. How dare the Princess be independent and happy? With each cherished visit from her friends, the King deduced that Glorissa and Bridgett were the source of her declining, improper behavior. Ana was then forbidden to send out invitations or respond to their letters. Eventually, they stopped sending letters and the satisfaction on her Papiee’s face scared the wild girl into her cage. Instead of spending time with friends and running free through the glades, Ana was given tutors of grace, mannerisms, and dance instructors. Each day of those rigid rules broke her, like a man does to a young and buckeye stallion. Ana lost that fierce, beautiful girl and she fears she will never resurface. She remembers the swentaa days filled with wonder, plotting to takeover the world, and marrying the most handsome of princes. Glorissa dreamed of becoming the Leader of the Namaste Forest, having her followers pick the prettiest flowers and feed her sweets until she became plump. Bridgett had wanted to visit the mysterious country of Frysessa and Death Island, dazzled by the stories of mythical creatures and magic. Wanting to be a feral shape shifter, she would get down on her fours as practiced her menacing “roar”. Ana was different though, as she smiled at her friends making fools of themselves, she looked up from beneath the tree they have taken shelter from the unrelenting sun.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she looked back to the girls and saw that they were awaiting her input to their silly discussion.

Smirking, Ana fell back into the slightly damp grass and smiled savagely. She had said, “I want to be feared.”

“Feared?” Glory said confusedly.

“Why would you want to be feared? Do you want to be a monster?”

Laughing freely, Ana shifted to her stomach, her elbows propped up and hands on either side of her face as she swung her feet up and down. She always had so much pent up energy as a young girl.

“No, no! Nothing like that. I want to be feared from my accomplishments. I don’t want people to be awed by my title; I want them to…envy my deeds! I don’t just want to be known as Ana, princess of Mycea– anybody can be a princess! I want to be Ana the Brave, Climber of the Highest and Deadliest Mountains, Survivor of the most violent Volcanoes in Rhageon, and the Champion of the Fey on Death Island! Doesn’t that sound more awesome than being a plain old princess?”

Finishing her heated speech, Ana met the eyes of her companions and instead of mockery reflected in the depths, she was only met with respect and awe.

Ana now meets the eyes of her former childhood friends, searching desperately for the faint trace of that same reverence but she is only greeted with cold, icy glares.

Ana pauses, causing one of the guards to grumble under his breathe. Ana ignores him.

            Why? Don’t you understand Birdie and Glory? I miss the laughs and secrets we once shared, are you blind to the pain in my eyes? But they only see a pretentious Princess who was too upright to reach out and keep up with her friends.

Frances gently, kindly tugs her elbow. Ana starts and remembers that she is in the middle of the celebration, not in the solace of her private bedrooms. There she will recollect her deepest and treasured memories, not in front of these people who wait excitedly for the melee of her vulnerability. Shaking herself from her thoughts, Ana strides forward.

The Royal Guard surrounds her until they reach the King, who is standing stiffly
 outside the doors of the atrium. The images of baby-faced cherubs and winged angels with their eyes towards the heavens are etched in the doors. The Ten Saints stare blankly from the artfully stained glass filtering in the departing sun. Two guards station themselves outside the doors, four go inside, securing the area and setting themselves at the four corners, and Frances stays a few steps behind her, nodding slightly to the King’s guard.

The King is frowning, which is of no surprise. Instead of greeting his daughter with a hug or a kiss on the cheek–as another father would have done–he looks Ana up and down critically as if he were about to purchase a horse. Should I expect to have my y teeth inspected next, Papiee? 

“Look happy,” he commands
. Dressing in his finest garb, a gold tunic embedded with faultless sapphires and his raven hair brushed back to better display the crown atop his brow, the King of Mycea is the epitome of regal. Looking past his shoulder, Ana does not allow the disappointment show on her face when she cannot locate Queen Suzette.

Always a command, never a request from this man who will always be King first and Papiee last.

“It is an honor to be our beautiful country’s savior from those barbarians,”
The King continues.

            “Why does Papiee never want to see me Namieé? I have been a very good girl like you asked.”

            “I know my fierce snow cub, but do not worry about Papiee, you will always have your Namieé to love you.”

If Ana had been swathed in blankets of the bluest hue rather than the most delicate of blushes, would she then know her Papiee’s love?

Instead of voicing her sentiments, Ana smiles dutifully and murmurs meekly with her eyes downcast with her spine slightly bent, “Yes, my King,” then she, the King, his guard, and Frances enter.

 

Miss Bridgett Wistlethorne sneezes delicately in her monogrammed BW handkerchief, a gift from her withered father who worries over her bothersome allergies.

Though the sound is almost undetectable, the haughty and heavily rouged ladies to her right catches the sound, sending her rather sharp looks past their decorated fans.

Bridgett attempts to let the infuriating buzz of their voices fade out but her already tense emotions could not allow the incident past without repercussion.

Miss Glorissa Abbydurse, attuned to her closest friend, is trained in the awareness of the beginnings of a “Batshit Birdie fit” and is always prepared to handle the situation. But Glory also detects that a bunch of mindless, supercilious heffers are not the sole focus of her ire.

“Birdie–” Gloria begins, tucking her arm in the crook of Birdie’s arm. Around the duo, the excited chatter of the crowd quiets as the organ groans, signaling the start of the wedding.

Glory is not vexed by the fact that her and Birdie were deemed not important enough in society to be invited to the wedding of the decade, but she is still hurt that despite years of friendship with the princess, the frivolous days filled with endless amounts of laughter a bright memory that refused to fade, they were not even given a passing thought.

Glory’s father is a renowned solicitor and Birdie’s uncle and guardian a Master Bridge Builder. Though both of their vocations are desirable and in no way something to shirk away from, it cannot parallel to a title. Lord and Lady So and So, no matter their contribute to society, will always have the upper hand, the better prospects, and the invitation to attend the princess’ wedding. She can still picture the disappointed look of her butler Jameson’s heavily-lined face who informed her that she did not receive a letter from her dearest friend or she was not invited to the balls Ana would monthly throw. She always knew Ana was special, being the princess and possessing the rare beauty that caused maidens throughout the country to doubt their appearance, but she could have never fathomed she had the capability to be cruel. Glory remembers first meeting the princess as she tagged along with her father as he was summoned to the castle. Awed by the sheer beauty and wealth of Castle Bastille, Glory had been afraid to ruin anything, smoothing her dress and she had helplessly looked back at her father chatting with a sycophant who led him to the Throne Room as the princess’s Nurse escorted her to the gardens.

The Nurse, a pale, plump woman with a hard grip had dragged Glory reluctantly along until they reached the gardens. Releasing Glory, the Nurse pointed at the girl passively sitting on a bench reading an illuminated text. Exhaling gruffly, the Nurse sent a hard look at Glory and said, “Here, keep this little beast entertained.”

Leaving in a huff, the wide-hipped woman stalked back into the castle, leaving Glory feeling gauche as she stood there without direction.

Looking back to the other girl, Glory had nervously smiled and said, “Hello.”

The girl had been humming to herself as she leafed through her book but as the Nurse’s dramatic exit and Glory’s timid greeting, the other girl with a wealth of light-brown hair wrestled into a long braid had looked up from her book and had smiled.

A silly grin that stretched past her lips and showed all of her teeth, the other girl shone of a brightness that blinded Glory into stunned silence.

“Hello there!” Slamming the book down, the other girl jumped to her feet and walked up to Glory. “You must be Glory, your father the solicitor my pap–Father commissioned. Nice to meet you!”

Shaking herself from her frozen position, Glory awkwardly bent into a curtsey, “The pleasure is mine, Princess Anayissa.”

“Ugh not you too!” Throwing her hands up in frustration, the princess truly looked piqued. Hastily standing up, Glory felt heat reach her face. Had she did something wrong?

Her head bent in shame, Glory had stammered out, “I apologize princess, I will never–”

“Olliah’s beard, stand up!” To her surprise, the princess had reached out to Glory hand touched her shoulders. Shaking her until she snapped her neck up, the princess had blown out a breath of frustration, “Glory, how are we supposed to play if you are bowing and curtseying all the time? When you are with me, you do not have to worry about all those rules.” Releasing Glory, the princess had smiled again and taken Glory’s hand, “Come on! Let’s go catch some frogs by the pond!”

Hesitantly, Glory had taken the other girl’s hand, still not believing the princess’s unconventional behavior. Glory’s father had drilled in a quick lesson of etiquette on the carriage ride here, adamant about Glory not doing anything that would embarrass him. But with the princess, Glory had felt this wave of acceptance and warmth and knew with extreme clarity that the princess was unlike anyone she has ever met.

“Okay,” Glory had returned the smile and joined the princess.

It had been the same for Birdie, pulled into the spell of the princess’s enthusiasm and friendliness; Birdie had effortlessly joined their group. Missing the ease of youth and the smiles they shared, Glory feels an ache throb within her heart.

Having shaken off the beginnings of her fit, Birdie takes her arm out of Glory’s, titling her hat slightly and fixing the bow on her dress.

“I already know what you are going to say, Glory. But I just can’t deal with those snobs who think they are better than us.”

Shaking her head, Glory looks out towards the doors and the grim faces of the Royal guards.

Startled into stillness, Glory notices a redheaded guard. He has a handsome face, a broad, square jawline, bright light eyes that Glory can distinguish the color from the distance, and broad shoulders, which him look masculine and powerful in his armor. Glory blushes as she continues looking over the guard, alarmed as she becomes fixated on how he kept his hair rakishly longer than military required, the thick auburn hair curling becomingly at the ends.

The handsome guard, unknowing of the rapt attention he triggers, scans his eyes expertly over the perimeter of frilly dressed guests, sweeping over Glory without a passing thought.

Irritated and frustrated with her inability to attract the attention of the fine-looking guard, Glory turns back to her friend and mutters, “Ha! Don’t fool yourself. You know those cows live for gossip.”

            Ana would have attracted that guard. She is so beautiful, after all.

Forcing her train of thought away, Glory continues, leaning closer to Birdie to whisper, “And those hens are not the only reason why you are two seconds away from a tantrum. It’s the Princess, obviously. She looked so perfect,” Glory admits painfully.         Despite being unable to see the dress, Glory knows that Ana would be swathed in the finest of cloths, stunning, and lovely–something Glory can never be.

Turning her away before becoming tempted to stick her tongue childish out to get a hilarious reaction, Birdie gives Glory an astonished look.

Finally recovering from her shock, she mutters, “Glory, stop fretting over her. It does not matter what she looks like, just remember that she threw us away like trash.”

A collective whisper buzzes loudly as the organ abruptly stalls. Looking towards the door and the handsome guard who worriedly frowns.

“I…miss her sometimes, Birdie. She could always bring a smile to my face, she use to be so kind and full of compassion,” Glory shamefully admits.

Looking down at her petite friend, Birdie reaches down and grasps her best friends hand and squeezes it gently. Birdie’s copper eyes lose some of its fire.

“I know. I miss her too, Glory! Remember the one time in swentaa, we each caught a frog and raced them. Mine won of course.”

“Ha! That greedy little frog of yours only moved that fast because there was bug at the finish line,” Glory smiles widely, china blue eyes bright from the warm memories.

The redheaded guard abstractedly looks away from the door as the organ starts again, eyes fastening on the golden-skinned Glory. As she raises her hand to muffle her tinkling laughter, Fredrick wishes he could take that hand away to capture the full beauty of her smile.

“Someone sounds jealous,” Birdie smirks.

“You wish, tis the truth.”

“Ha… I remember Ana would be the mediator when we fought.”

“Yeah, she was the patient one.”

“I–”

“Shhhh. It is starting,” Birdie hushes Glory as the organ finishes the “Wedding March” and silence sweeps through the collected group as they strain to hear the binding of two dissimilar souls.

 

The swing of the door and the sudden hush alerts the gathered parties that wedding has finally begun.

The ladies and lords of Mycea forget the latest juicy gossip, for now, and the Rhageons song of whistles and hums dissipates immediately, their bodies erect in their seats and eyes alert on the young woman following the lead of the King of Mycea. A hush settles in the air as the princess appears, her lovely hair presenting first, her petite but costly crown woven artfully into her braids, then her face, cast down to the floor. One of the guards halts at the closing door, face stoic and professional. At the end of the altar, the groom tenses as the princess releases the death grip on the ends of her cloak, effortlessly pushing it off her shoulders with an innate grace. The other guard takes the cloak from her and the King steps back to show off his product. The Ladies of the Court wipe the sneers tightly on their face, but their eyes show of a greed that could chill the Bone Desert of the infamous Death Island.

The dress is the pride of Mycea and the young woman was the perfect figurehead to show the invaders that the citizens were still proud despite their defeat.

Ana ignores the exclamations as she divulges her gown and eventually tunes out the music as the distasteful “Wedding March” starts on the ancient organ. Becoming disheartened as the King waves Frances off, Ana loses a little bit of her courage. Refusing to look at the end of the altar, the blur of the wizened priest and tall and imposing figure from her peripherals beckons her to peek.

The citizens of Mycea, bobbed hair and jewels shining brightly, dominate the left side of the aisle. The bright colored dresses and suits made hastily by Miss Victoria and her team of seamstress and the revered shops in Terrace of the aristocracy, remind Ana of a male peacock as he spreads his impressive yet incompetent wings.

Noticing the russet and light chestnut heads of her relatives, Ana is not thwarted when a friendly face does not greet her. With the tragic death of her favorite cousin Caleb, Ana knew that the icy stares were not solely directed towards her. Aware of the tension and lack of affection between the families, Ana never fooled herself into believing that she could win the love of her papiee’s family. Ana’s Hivos Favion and Marcus are replicas of the King, though not only in looks. Hivo Marcus is the most handsome with a strong jaw and startling jade green eyes. Gossip claims he is a bastard; the royal line has only been known to have brown and rarely blue eyes that resurfaced from the nomadic roots in Aestha. But the people would never dare speak such condemning words directly to Hivo Marcus, who is infamously recognized for his taste for cruelty. Ol’Papiee King Cobain was known for his ruthlessness but also for his obsession for discipline. Blessed with three healthy and strong sons that wore out Ana’s Ol’Naimee, Papiee and his brothers were never spoiled but instead tested daily. Frances, a lowly solider then, had told Ana that the King made them train daily with hand-to-hand combat on themselves, dueling with long swords and knives until one was victorious. The victor was gifted with an extra hour of sleep, seconds at dinner, and shockingly, in the final battle, the title of King. Normally, Mycea’s tradition indicates that the firstborn son is bequeathed with the title, lands, and wealth. But her Ol’Papiee decided that Mycea had enough of weak and prideful Kings and wanted his sons to fight for the right to rule.

            Hivo Marcus was the firstborn, how cruel it must have been to have your future and birthright stripped away so callously. Ana’s Hivo wife’s turns marginally into the light, revealing the livid bruises that the expansive makeup cannot disguise. Or is cruelty engrained in our royal blood?

Frances had recounted the day they announced the King and how there was a forced tension in the air. How unorthodox the final battle would be, but who would question their King? Soldiers, commoners, and the aristocracy filled the stands of the training yard, waiting to cheer for their future sovereign. When the brothers had trained before, they would lean on each other, inspiring them to stand up, volunteering to take a beating for another, but all the bets were off as the crown was in literal sight. Brother against brother, there was no love between them–no, as they fought, bit, slap, and stabbed at each other. Favon fell first, not a general surprise since he was the youngest and not as skilled with one-on-one combat. Papiee, the middle brother, the shortest with steely eyes and with a mean streak as wide as day, fought his brother Marcus like a demon they say. Leaving his eldest brother in an unconscious bloody lump on the dirt, King Harold rose victorious and respected for his ferociousness.

            All hail the new King! King Harold! Hooray, Hooray!

            Ana’s papiee did in some ways pity his brothers and gifted them with the cities of Jumbe´ and Terrace to governor over. But as Ana meets the eyes of her unapproachable Hivos, she shivers at the livid hatred and frustration still vibrant in their jewel-like eyes.

Unnerved by their cold expression, Ana extends her neck and spots her Namieé in the front row, gracefully poised and façade impeccably in place. The Queen’s servants had dressed her in a gown the exact shade of bubbling champagne and her white blonde hair is piled up and her peaches and cream skin is glowing; people would name it as a pregnant woman’s glow. To others, she resembles like a graceful Queen, exceptionally proud and resilient. Only Ana has witnessed the Queen at her most vulnerable, holding her as she cried, healing the cuts and bruises from Papiee’s angry fists. This is not her first pregnancy after Ana but it has been the longest she has been able to maintain. Ana will never forget the vivid images of her childhood, assisting Namieé clean up the red pool of liquid on her thighs and floor that was either her brother or sister. Suzette would whisper in her native tongue, a language that she is forbidden to teach her mixed blood daughter.

            “Papiee? How dare you teach her that filth! My daughter will only call me Father, do you understand?”

But Ana did learn the Queen’s native tongue and she will never forget the fervent prays her Namieé would say as she cried, balled up on the floor, unqueenly and broken.

            “Brisha Olliah, matto yirr brimma rune brie. Did brisha serviyee bri Ana, fria e’ bri azurue wi yirr Bato. Ye aszi lirr Olliah, Ye aszi lirr.”

“Please God, take this pain away from me. But please protect my Ana, she is my light in this Hell. I am ready God, I am ready.”

Another quick look that disrupts the flow of the music and makes An’s steps off-beat, reveals the faces of her other cousins Lucille and Rosaline who had penned Ana saying they threw a legendary fit to convince their papiee to allow them to travel to her wedding. Wanting to smile but forgetting how, Ana acknowledges the deathless eyes of her cousin Lucy and the guileless ones of Rosa with a hardwearing nod.

Ana’s heart heavy, she slowly turns her head towards the pews where the Rhageons are sitting. 
The invaders are beautiful
but not in a superfluous way like her proud people. Their skin tones range from burnished gold to the deepest of browns and obsidian and they wear their hair long, embedded with beads and jewels, even the men. 
Leather is worn generously and weapons are unapologetically visible. 
They met their future sovereign’s eyes cordially, 
never wavering.

It is astounding how the two countries only separated by the Beser Desert are so radically different. Ana’s geography tutor had shown her maps of the vast country, revealing the numerous deserts, dormant volcanoes, rivers, and where the Critilan Gold, Menis Lapis Lazuli, and Massief Diamond mine were rumored to be located. Ana could not help but wonder how the people survived such harsh conditions. But as she takes in the unwavering strength reflecting in the desert people’s eyes, the sleek and strong muscles, and the sun-beaten skin, she could almost believe that the Rhageons, who defeated her Papiee’s army with ease, could survive any terrain with resilience.

One man approaches Ana and the King, interrupting the “Wedding March”, not that she cares or was listening to the celebratory music that would have befitted a funeral rather than her wedding.

The stranger was a Rhageon man, tall, dark, handsome, and eyes intent and hooded like a hawk. 
”Tolla, hi s’Ysuuria. A li Genrys Nortega,” he gravely states. Greetings, his Queen. I am Second-in-Command Nortega.

Ana finds it odd that he called her “his Queen” instead of “my Queen.” Bowing from the waist, Ana glances at his braid that starts from the top of his head and ends at the middle of his back.

Ana feels Papiee’s menacing presence lurking behind her.

Bending down until she can feel the his breath at the back of her neck, the King of Mycea says, “Do not disappoint me,” 
he murmurs. His voice soft is more threatening to her than him yelling. Ana’s heart beating in her chest as a bead of cool sweat trailing down her back, Ana struggles to remember her Tutor’s hasty lesson without stumbling.

Cursing herself for not being as articulate in Rhageon as she could have been, Ana responds, slowly, extremely unsure of her pronunciation. “Tolla, Genrys Nortega. A li houner’ td.” Greetings, second-in-command. I am honored. Her mouth stretching over the foreign words and her tongue struggling to roll her r’s, Ana’s face pinks as she faces the Rhageon general.

Instead of mocking her for her clumsy attempt at his language, Nortega sends Ana a genuine smile, his teeth bright in his tanned face and slanted eyes nearly disappearing in the creases. Inclining his head to her King, Nortega does not bow, as is of proper etiquette when in the presence of a king. This does not escape Ana’s Papiee’s notice as his eyes begin to narrow in aggravation.

A sly look spreads across Nortega’s face; sharp cheeks bones stand out as he sets his lips into a sardonic twist as he glares at the King. Ana could not help but compare him to a wildcat, as he stood so strong and exotic next to her Papiee.

He continues, 
”In our culture, it is our tradition for the Warlord’s Genrys to escort s’Ysurria.” His accent is understandable yet his r’s are harsh, making it sound more like a growl than a string of practiced, polite words.

He pauses and looks at Ana directly, speaking to her now, his entire demeanor changing, transforming the contours of his face until it became friendly and soft.

“It is an houner for me to be allowed to protect and serve, s’Ysurria.”

Eyes wide, Ana watches in amusement as the King’s normally tan face bleeds beet-red with stifled ire
. Having seen the wrath of his fury, she knew the only power holding back her Papiee’s nasty remark and cruel blow is the threat of his country if he were to act impetuously.

Seeing her reaction, Nortega turns his head toward her again and winks rakishly at Ana.

Not noticing either her or the Genrys amusements, Papiee takes reign of his rage, the redness of his face bleeding to his neck, emphasizing the corded muscles straining.

“In our culture, the father gives his daughter away,” he glares at Nortega, 
 clenching his hand on Ana’s arm, creasing the lace and touching one of her scars.

Nortega does not hesitate
, dark eyes not wavering from the King’s tight grasp on his daughter’s arm.

“Then we walk s’Ysurria together.”

The music begins again as Ana walks down the aisle
 with her King on the left 
and Genrys Nortega to the right. The audience had not made a peep during the interruption, the Myceans watching with collective wide-eye and open mouth expressions. Her steps are careful and she did not let any of the inner turmoil of emotions show on her face.

And then, for the first time, Ana allows herself to look up and see the man who will soon be her husband. Standing on the raised dais, shadowed by a beam of moonlight, Ana witnesses the splendor of the Warlord of Rhageon, stifling the unfamiliar emotions that overwhelm her.

He is a warrior; there is no modicum of doubt. The Warlord lives up to his name, taller than any of the men in attendance with a deadly air that only a man who has been born and breed on a battlefield can only hope to attain. He has a virile form, beautiful skin, smooth and a deep bronze, covering ropes of muscle. Sharp, defined features shape a ruthlessly handsome face and his long
bone-white hair falls shamelessly to his hips. Other than a few warrior braids and beads, his hair is a sight to see; pulchritudinous tresses yet it could not take away from his masculinity. Encased in leather from neck to the bottom of his wide boots, Ana cannot help but trace the etched silver designs across his body, swirls and what looks like to be a crescent moon over his heart, with her eyes. Ana is not sure which was more impressive: his daunting and inhuman height or his hair, thin like blades and the hue rivaling the essence of moonlight.

There is an otherness about him, an energy that is not entirely human. His eerie eyes are slanted and focused on her form, shinning silver, and as watchful as a predators’.

He does look like the suitors illustrations in her storybooks, where pretty men with dreamy eyes and flowers in hand come from across the seas to woo her, but a man who would come to her, sword in hand as he came to claim her with his might.

            Lyceria’s Chosen indeed.

He is a striking man
 and Ana could not help but feel like a child compared to his warrior-build and staggering height. As she slowly makes her way to the platform, deaf to the lilting music and blind to the splendor surrounding me, realism starts to settle in and makes room for the building hysteria.

A monster of men, cloaked in human skin…

He can kill a man with his bare hands…

Heartless, cruel, evil, monster…

The unnatural way he stands, still as if waiting to pounce immediately catches her attention. Ana wonders about the rumors of his wolf counterpart.

Is the wolf staring straight at her?

 

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