Chapter 8: “Gifts aplenty, Jewels a many”

~“Gifts aplenty, Jewels a many”~

“The comfort of home–the hearth, the laughs shared, the victories, the heartaches–can heal the deepest of wounds and fill the darkest of souls with light”–Suzette

Suzette was once a snow cat famed for her sleek body, sharp claws that could swipe flesh to ribbons, and contained such beauty that men from all over the Four Kingdoms sought to possess her. Many even claimed she possessed a beauty that rivaled the Fey. But when she left the comfort of home and tested her paws on the soil of Mycea, the snow cat forgot the familiarity of the snow and frost as she suffocated and refused to assimilate to the change of not only climate but also social standards. The snow cat did not like to be caged. The snow cat was not made for tight and unwieldy dresses and stifling rules; snow cats made their own rules! She was designed for the wild, running across the tundra, climbing the highest trees with her sharp claws, and to be free to make her own choices. But her mate did not like it when his snow cat showed him her claws and fangs.

Whenever the snow cat fought back, her husband, a stronger beast, bested her each time. The beast was a monster, cruel and ugly as he hurt and tortured the snow cat for years and did not relent when she bore him a healthy and beautiful cub. The snow cat lost her fierceness, lost the wildness inside her and remained weak and docile like a common house cat. As each miscarriage and beating shredded her spirit, the snow cat cried in agony as she saw the pain reflected in her snow cub’s eyes, unable to defend her cub from the monster’s wrath, she bowed her head in defeat.

She wanted to protect her snow cub but how can she when she cannot save herself? But as she watched her snow cub marry the snarly and menacing wolf, the snow cat rattled the cages once again. She will not let her snow cub go through the same suffering as she had endured, she will not lie submissively by as the beast ruins the only happiness she has known throughout the years.

 

Queen Suzette takes a deep breath as she raises her hand to knock on the door of her husband’s office.

The strong oak looks formidable in contrast to her feminine and pale hand. Her hands are comely, she notes, delicate as a butterfly’s wing and soft from decades of her pampered lifestyle.

Suzette misses her childhood days in Aestha where the people cherished children and worshipped the ideals and simplicity of childhood. Though Aesthans were infamous for their reserved manners, her people are obsessed with their children’s upbringing, protecting their offspring from threats and allowing them to have fun while “finding” themselves. The reasoning for the paranoia is due to the severe and harsh climates that made their founders make difficult decisions. The history of infanticide is Aestha’s biggest shame and is not outlawed in all the cities except for the drifter town closer to The Wastelands. The unfortunate folks who live closer to the massive stretch of ice where ice-wraiths are rumored to roam, follow only one law: survival.

Suzette’s life as princess and the eldest daughter had been comfortable and freeing, allowing her to be wild as a young girl. Her hands were always red and scratched from climbing but her namieé never complained; the Queen’s sole wish was to see Suzette happy. Suzette had adored her younger brother Bror. Only a year apart, the siblings were close friends growing up. Playing pranks on one another, telling each other secrets, sneaking into the kitchen to steal treats from the Kitchen, Bror used to look up to Suzette, admiring her fierceness and relishing their time together. But as they grew older, Bror began to envy Suzette’s snow cat. In the end, it was his jealousy that shattered their relationship forever.

Taking her now manicured hands over her stomach, where a slight bump has grown for the past two moons, she gathers her courage and barges into the room.

Her husband’s office is very masculine; Jumb´e imported wood floors covered by thick rugs bought from the shopping capital of Terrace, deer and bear heads staring at her in the blankness of death thatched over the walls, and the magnificent desk that is as intimating and powerful as the man siting in front it.

She has surprised him; no one was ever to disrupt him when he announces his wish for private reprieve.

“Harold, I wish to speak to you,” she states, her voice wavering slightly towards the end as he glares at her, standing up and leaning forward threateningly.

“Gah!” Throwing his papers on the desk and huffing loudly, he lies his hands on his hips as he begins to chastise her, “What is it Suz? Don’t you see that I am busy?” His neck beginning to blush red from his anger, Suzette must admit that his face looks more strained and harrowed then usual. The recent war have taken a toll on him, the stress eating at his fine golden-brown skin until wrinkles have taken hold of his face.

Forcing her legs to remain firm, Suzette levels her icy blues eyes, “Yi, yi I see–”

“And by knowing this, you still persist to hassle me? What topic must you discuss with me that cannot wait? It must be of the utmost importance,” The tone in his voice is mocking–believing that she is not as intelligent. The King not only uses his fists to cause harm but his barbed words can be seen as his most damaging weapon. Belittling her, the mocking, insulting words her husband has pointed her way have a tendency to linger, haunting Suzette to the point where she is tempted to cut off her ears to silence his voice.

His face beginning to bleed red, the ruddy color darkening his skin. With familiarity, Suzette detects his hands beginning to clench at his sides. The paltry show of the King attempting to reign in his fury causes Suzette to shake as memories assault her. When the horrific memories engulf, they are thankfully never in color. In black-and-white, Suzette watches the scenes flicker in her mind, her stomach dropping as fear begins to root within her.

Shaking herself before panic makes her reckless, Suzette is determined to continue–for her snow cub she will be brave and she will not back down. “No, it is just about my Ana­– ”

“Your Ana? Not our Ana? She is my daughter too Suz!” His voice raises another degree.

A flash of darkness enters Harold’s and the sight of the beast that customarily remains hidden beneath the famed de Cliousa brown eyes, greets Suzette.

She had seen glimpses of that monster throughout the years, learned to fear its might. Her right hand begins to tremble and her throat closes up; her spine automatically curving inward as her body prepares for the physical blow that was soon to come.

Reminding herself once again of her slight bump and her snow cub, she forces her right hand to still and once again places her hand over her womb for courage.

“Ha! Now you claim Ana as your daughter!” Raising her voice too, black and white memories assault her once more; a spectator to her daughter’s suffering.

Until the end of her days, Suzette will never forget the hurt in her snow cub’s eyes as her Papiee neglected her love, pushing away her efforts, and weaving blackness in her bright and pure soul. She will be silent no longer.

“You did no such thing as you forced her to marry that grito! A wolf dressed in the flesh of a mortal man–that is the type of man you forced my snow cub to marry.”

The Warlord, his other alias know as The Wolf, is known for his ruthlessness on the battlefield and his sharp wit as he commands his men to relentless victories, will this man hardened by war and blood be able to give her Ana the love and patience she deserves?

Harold loses his normally calm, reserved bearing. Flipping his desk in a sudden, unexpected turn of events, Suzette holds her stomach as she jumps back. Suzette does not mistake this sudden burst of frustration as concern for Ana. “Dammit Suz! What the fuck did you want me to do? If I did not act, we would be enslaved to that arrogant bastard. Would you want that Sue? To have our Ana and our unborn child in chains?”

“…She is my snow cub, she is my light and you took her away from me. She is only fifteen, Harold! A child! She needs her Namieé,” She hates how pleading her voice sounds.

“Dammit! You are so fucking selfish! You would doom this country to Hell if you could.”

“There is no point! Mycea has been doomed ever since you took the throne and not your brother–”, the hard slap ricochets in the room, cutting off her words as her sharp incisors slices her pink tongue.

Taking a step back, Suzette wipes the blood from her lips with the back of her hand. Testing to see any teeth were knocked lose, Suzette flinches as she brushes against her tender cheek. Another battle wounds that she will brazenly brandish without the shield of makeup. Suzette does not let the blow stop her. Unwavering before her husband, Suzette finds the inner strength to stand tall.

She has failed her snow cub in the past, but Suzette will learn to fight again.

Suzette smirks as she unsheathes her claws.

“Shower her with candies and flowers,

Eyes dazed and bright like stars,

An entirety within a blessed hour,

A fantasy absent of scars–

Gifts aplenty, jewels a many,

She will soon give into me and so much more!”

 

Praying to Amun, the god of travel, Torien wishes there was a faster way to reach the protected and familiar borders of Ghyria. Atop his desert stallion, Khalid, Torien surveys his people efficiently pack and prepare for their long awaited journey. From Tareriae, they will stop at The Crooked Knee Inn in Poshmarina to stop for supplies before entering the Beser Desert. Aware that his wife and her companion are not used to the sheer fickleness of the desert, Torien will have to make the decision to slow down their progress. Instead of it taking three days to reach Zuberl, the next city, it will most likely take five days to a week.

Beginning to frown, Torien looks out towards the castle’s spiraling towers. Almost forgetting the events of the night before, Torien had awoken in a strange, unfamiliar bed. A delicately, singularly female smell had surrounded him. Resisting the temptation to take his braid and smell his own hair, Torien grudgingly acknowledges that he does not totally despise the utterly feminine scent. Lavender, she smells of lavender, that was Torien’s first thoughts when he opened his eyes this morning, his eyes clashing with the younger woman’s golden-brown ones. Torien wishes he could erase the memory of the sheer terror in her eyes. Her body locking in fright, Torien had swiftly left the bed before shame and guilt could overwhelm him.

Yes, it will take twice as longer to reach home, yet anytime a part of Torien wants to bemoan the delay; the princess’s panic-stricken face remedies his impatience.

 

There is a Mycean saying about bridal gifts that Ana completely blanks on as she takes in the overwhelming, tremendous mound of presents before her.

After unhurriedly breaking her fast, Ana had heard a commotion in the courtyard and hurried to investigate. A couple of warriors with braided hair and leather pants had been unloading large trunks from the transports, their muscles straining as they placed the boxes on the ground.

The horticulturist, a typically timid man with tanned skin and slanted eyes, had been yelling at the Rhageon warriors, swinging his arms and pointing.

Hastening over in a rush, Ana had placed her hand on the older man’s shoulder, startling him into silence.

“Princess! My apologies!” Bowing, Ana had looked over the man’s balding head and caught one of the soldier’s eyes.

“Rise, Mister Hemming. What happens to be the matter?”

“These scoundrels were unloading their trash all over the lawn, princess! I was demanding they load it back.”

“This no trash,” one of the Rhageon warriors, growls, his accent strong. His dark brown locs hair pulled back into ponytail, his sharp green eyes zero-in on Mister Hemming’s irate form.

“Gah! Can’t you people speak properly?” The horticulturist huffs in frustration.

The warriors, who were unloading the boxes, halt at his haughty tone.

Sensing the tension arising, Ana smiled as she peacefully said to the Rhageon man, “Tilla, Cris. May we inquiry what are in the boxes?”

s,Ysurria,” a fist over their hearts, the group pauses to bow to Ana, “We were ordered to bring and surprise you with regirlas from s’Nysurria. But the small grito ruined the surprise with yelling,” The man sent another lethal glare to Mister Hemming.

“Gifts?” Walking over to one of the trunks, Ana bends forward and flips open the latch. Ana eyes had widened.

Now surrounded and drowning in the in the sheer wealth and lavishness of her bridal gifts, Ana now remembers the saying she forgotten earlier: Your groom’s choice of bridal gift is a telltale to his devotion.

MM8_3617  The trunks are filled with trunks spilling out gold coins and sparkling jewels, yards of raw silk and scarves varying in colors and cuts, Faberge eggs cushioned comfortably in a box made from a rare pink wood, charming, meticulously crafted glass figurines shaped into mythical animals–a phoenix’s spreading it’s fiery wings before the brilliance of the sun, a pouncing lion in the savanna, a prowling jaguar in the jungles, a snow cat with arresting sapphire eyes– bright and colorful feathers from birds she had never lied eyes upon, the frothy and slippery material of the abundance of sheer nightgowns, long skirts, blouses, dresses, and braided sandals, and the more practical yet still remarkable clothes she would be wearing during the trek, including soft hides, long tunics that would go over tights, tailor-made boots, and leather vests.

As a princess, Ana is used to luxuries and wealth but she has never seen such show of inconceivable opulence until today.

Picking up one of the feathers, sunset orange, bright pink, and a splash of crimson red that reminds her of dried blood, Ana rubs the soft bristles across her forearm.

“Gorgeous,” Ana sighs.

“Lars!” A booming voice breaks the peaceful interlude of Ana’s gift opening.

The sight of her husband eating up the distance drives Ana to stand straighter.

It is as if last night had never occurred. A man, who is a stranger yet also achingly familiar, approaches the group. The Warlord’s handsome face is cold as he takes in the scene. His hair is swept back and braided again. There are no stray tendrils of silvery-white hair that sometimes fell across Ana’s face. Ana pushes down the desire to ask him who braids his hair for him. No longer wearing the decorated leathers he had worn for their wedding, Torien is dressed similarly to the other warriors, save his distinctive bone-white hair, otherworldly silver eyes, and the tremendous power that he emits from his powerful form.

Breaking his death stare from Lars, the Warlord turns his mercury-colored eyes towards her. It as if she has been punched in the gut. The breath suddenly gone from her lungs, Ana is uncertain whether the feeling originates from fear or another nameless emotion. Feeling guilty like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, Ana hides the feather behind her back.

m’Ysurria,” the Warlord acknowledges her with a head nod. Detached. Emotionless. Polite.

A man who is rumored to be a demi-god, blessed by the gods with inhuman strength and the ability to transform into a wolf, is merely polite with her.

A block had been preventing her from remembering the night before, her memory hazy after her sixth–maybe eighth–glass of wine but at her confusion at his distance, Ana recalls with unexpected swift clarity.

After almost embarrassingly passing out in front of her guests, Julia and Laura had dragged her up to her rooms, dressing her in a sensuous nightgown of lace and translucent silk before leaving her. She had heard the stiff creek of leather and felt a large presence above her before she succumbed to a deep slumber. This morning, she had woken with a sharp pain pounding in her head, her mouth dry, and her husband half-naked in her bed.

Ana’s grand windows were wide open, the sunlight streaking through the cream colored room, and a large tray containing a breakfast for two hungry men, was on the bistro dining table where should would sometimes take her lunch with her namieé. Two sets were laid out and a vase filled with chrysanthemums and wildflowers resting intertwined in the center.

It should have been comical at the sight of her beast-like husband taking over her four-poster bed. His body was so enormous and commanding, the healthy brown skin glowing in the morning rays. His long white hair had been liberated from its braids, the waves resting dreamily on her pillows. His face was turned towards her, his eyebrows were furrowed and his mouth was set into a tempered frown.

Recollection had struck her like lightening. The warrior in her bed was her husband. And if we were both in bed together…

Slowly rising into a siting position, Ana had securely wrapped the sheets around her waist–careful to not wake the other occupant–and searched for the telltale signs of the night before. Ana’s namieé had warned that there would be pain and blood. Other than the piercing ache in her head and the dryness in her mouth, Ana could not spot any blood.             What had happened last night?

As Ana currently searches for answers in her husband’s aloof expression, she wishes she could find the courage to ask him.

Turning to the warriors, Torien begins to talk in Rhageon, his words too fast for Ana to translate.

Standing awkwardly with the feather behind her back, Ana does not need to be fluent in Rhageon to know that the men and women were being ripped.

Looking to her left, Ana is not surprised that Mr. Hemming had fled when the Warlord had appeared. Knowing that the warriors were not to blame, Ana sighs as she raises her voice to interrupt.

Nysurria Torien, these men and women are not at fault.” Putting the feather carefully back in the crate, Ana had been expecting her voice to be drowned out in his booming voice but at her tentative words, the Warlord had silenced quickly, the sudden quiet loud in the stillness.

All on eyes on her, Ana rubs her suddenly damp hands on her daytime dress before speaking again, “Son e no at fault. The gardener had obstructed them from completing their task.”

m’Nysurria,” the Warlord crosses his arms as she answers Ana.

“Pardon?”

“You are to call me m’Nysurria not Nysurria. Nysurria is a merely title. My people refer to me as s’Nysurria, which means ‘his or her King.’ You will call me m’Nysurria, meaning ‘my King.’”

Her face beginning to warm at her blunder, Ana remembers genrys Nortega referring to her as s’Ysurria at the wedding, “My apologies! I did not know.” Curse her tutor for making her look a fool!

Ignoring her once again, the Warlord settles back into his irksome reserved expression, “Adding the m’ in front of the title is used for affection. Only I will call you m’Ysurria and you will be the sole person to call me m’Nyrurria.”

Tasting the new word, Ana smiles sheepishly, “Thank you for teaching me the proper pronunciation, m’Nysurria. But as I mentioned before, they are not at fault and you should not yell at them thus.”

“They were thwarted from completing their task by a shrill old man.”

Sighing, Ana takes a step closer as she pleads with him with her eyes. “m’Nysurria, I do truly appreciate the gesture but please do not ruin the occasion with your ire,” pausing, Ana picks up the lone feather again as she sends a genuine smile to the Warlord, “I could never have dreamed of such wonderful gifts.”

His silver eyes lose the sharpness to it, now reminding Ana of a rippling tide rather than a drawn blade. “Apologies, m’Ysurria. You are correct.”

Looking back at his soldiers, Torien sends a meaningful nod to Lars before commanding, “Pessido!”

The men and women jump to attention. Bowing with their fists over their hearts before departing, Ana watches them noiselessly go. Her eyes following their retreating forms, Ana eyes widen as she finally notices the small crowd gathered audaciously staring at her and the Warlord. Ana inwardly cringes. Gossip spreads like wildfire at Castle Bastille but with her interaction with the Warlord, Ana is sure that even the Fey on Death Island will have heard.

“Ignore the sheep,” Torien growls. His eyes trained on the crowd, Ana is certain that he has already taken account of the people and assessed the possibility of danger.

“Sheep?” Ana surprises herself by laughing. “That would be an insult to the sheep,” Ana looks to the Warlord’s face expectantly, waiting for him to laugh at her joke.

Turning his head from the spectacle, the Warlord walks to the nearest trunk, running his fingers on the coarse material, “Yes, it would be. Myceans and their gossip; the go hand-in-hand.”

Studying him as he continues to ignore her, Ana irritation aids her as she works up the courage to ask him the question plaguing her. “Um, Nysurria may I inquiry–”

m’Nysurria.”

m’Nysurria–”

His head suddenly snapping up, the Warlord looks past the small crowd. “m’Ysurria, it looks like I can still surprise you with this gift.”

A few gasps can be heard from the crowd; Ana turns to the swarm of people as anticipation makes her giddy. Her feet, suddenly having a mind of their own, begin to head towards the loud noise; her steps faster as he hears a loud whinny.

a8392757c7fcb717ceaf890bc54e87df   The crowd parts and reveals the most beautiful horse Ana has ever seen. An astonishingly striking shade of red, reminiscent to the arresting, departing sunset, the desert mare is utterly perfect. Slightly more slender than her own horse Hanna, a graceful Arabian with a white nose, Ana watches as the horses’ muscles bunch in her legs as she is lead by a stoic Lars and knows that her slighter build is developed for speed. Exotic, majestic, unique, tears come to Ana’s eyes as she entirely forgets her other extravagant gifts. It is a well-known fact that Rhageons take pride in their horses. Typical horses could only last a few days in the harsh desert but in Saara, they have carefully bred their horses for centuries to withstand the heat and maintain their water supply. Like a camel, a desert horse has a small hump that stores water but it is barely noticeably nor does it hinder the riders’ movements.

Wholly neglecting her complicated relationship with animals, Ana hurriedly rushes over to the desert horse in her excitement. Stopping until she is a yard away from the horse, taking the last few tentative steps toward the extraordinary beast. Lars steps away from the horse but smartly continues to hold on to the reins. As if the horse was waiting specifically for her, Ana smiles as the horse brushes her nose against her upturned palm and bows its head so she can pet her easier. Leaning down to kiss its muzzle, Ana smiles dreamily as she hugs her horse.          I will name her Lili.

Running her hands through the short red hairs, Ana opens her eyes and catches the warmth that has softened the Warlord’s face. Truly content, Ana is surprisingly unafraid for the upcoming journey to come.

 

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