The young girl trembled in fury as she stormed through the palace. The stomping of her feet echoed in the great stone halls until at last she reached her chambers. She swung the door open and looked around, searching to no avail for something, anything on which to release her frustration. With her need overwhelming, she turned and collapsed on her bed where she could scream and scream into her pillow.
It was no surprise that none of her servants rushed to her bedside; fear of being on the receiving end of the young princess’ bout of rage outweighed the need to help her. It was not unusual for Sierren to be angry. They had learned when she needed them and when it was better to let her be.
"I will never forgive you for this, brother! Never!" She screamed into the dark nothingness that was before her.
The news of her arranged marriage had come as a shock to Sierren. The idea enraged her to the core. What right did he have to promise her to any man, prince or commoner, whom she had never met? For what purpose? Alliances that were only solidified by offering her like a lamb to be sacrificed for the better of the kingdom? He had promised her after their father's death that he would protect her, not throw her to the wolves!
Her mind was reeling as she cried herself into such a daze that she did not hear the chamber door open. It wasn't until the bed moved and a hand rest on her shoulder that she realized someone had come into the room.
"Sie, I am sorry. You must know that I did not have a choice,” Kasinar paused before continuing cautiously. “It is a tradition father would expect me to uphold despite how you or I may feel about it," he spoke softly, an apologetic tone to his voice. The knot in his gut only increased as he watched his little sister sobbing.
"You had no right to do this! You cannot make me marry this man," she said, defeated. She rolled on her side so that she could see his face, her eyes alight with fire. "Father is gone because of you, it is your fault he is not here! He would not force me to wed a man I do not love! You will never be as good a king as father, never!”
The change in Kasinar's expression was instant as she uttered the words, offended by her audacity. "It is by my right to do what I see necessary for the peace of my kingdom. You will wed come the first of summer. I would expect that you treat your future husband with the respect he deserves. It is your duty to do so." With that, he spun on his heels and left her to her sobbing.
She slammed her fist into the bed and screamed once more. A fierce exhaustion swept over her as her body shuddered. Never had she been so enraged in all of her short life. Never had it occurred to her that her life here in Osilien would end. Why must it end? Tears streamed down her face as her breathing slowed and her mind became cloudy. A last thought crossed her mind as sleep overtook her: there was nothing she could do to change her brother’s mind.
Her breath fogged the glass window as she pressed her forehead up against it, her eyes never leaving the man standing in the courtyard. Did he believe she were some easy prey? With his hazel eyes and chestnut brown hair, he surely caused all the village women to swoon in his presence. She did not see what made him so desirable.
"Sierren," she heard a voice say calmly behind her. Kasinar had not been too pleased with her since their argument the last they had spoken. She could tell by his apparent attempts to avoid her until she calmed herself that she had hurt him with her words.
"I know," she responded under her breath. It was obvious her resistance to this torture had not subsided in the few weeks he had given her to prepare for their declaration. She eyed the man once more out the window before retreating, turning her gaze to her brother.
"Must you be this way? You know I am only doing what is in the best interest of our people," he said, almost as if he did not believe it himself. His frown deepened as he watched her move to slip into her gown, a servant quickly following behind her to tend as needed.
"Our people, or you? If your attempt at joining two nations fails, what will the people think? They will no longer be my people. You are throwing me to the torture and death for all we know." Her response was meant to rile him up, but he did not take the bait. He knew her all too well it seemed.
Sierren held her arms up as the young woman tending her pulled the ribbons on the corset tight, almost gasping as it shrunk around her small frame. The blue gown was beaded and embellished like any ball gown a thriving young princess might wear to present beauty as if she were an offering to the gods. If only she were a sheep, it would not have to feel this way. Her fiery red hair was elegantly curled and tied out of her face with long strands falling to frame her cheeks, her deep emerald eyes gleaming brightly. The dress had been made months ago, unbeknownst to her that this particular occasion was to blame.
"You look beautiful," Kasinar said to her as he stepped toward her, lifting her chin so she would meet his gaze, "and I will spill his blood myself should he ever cause you or any of ours harm. You have my word. I worry that you are safe and your needs are tended to. He will provide all that. I merely hope that you will someday forgive me."
Tears stained her cheeks as he spoke to her, knowing he truly believed her wedding a necessity. It made her ache all over as the realization sank in. There was no way out of this. He was her King, brother or no, and she must do as commanded. Fear overwhelmed her as her heart began to race, feeling it flutter in her chest at the mere thought of leaving home. This was just the beginning of a very long journey.
The throng of people gathered in the courtyard looked up anxiously to the balcony Kasinar stood from. There was a steady murmur amongst the crowd, no doubt rumors flying swift as lightning from one citizen to the next. Azamar waited patiently as the young king began to raise his hands to the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?” he paused to wait for them to quiet before he continued. “I have summoned you here in celebration, for today our young princess, my dear sister, has become a young woman. Let us greet her warmly on her birthday.”
The crowd erupted as Sierren stepped out at his mention of her. She felt her face flush as she neared the prince, her betrothed. A smile crossed her lips and she waved politely to her people, her gloved fingers catching the sunlight momentarily before her arm fell to her side. She clenched her fists and stepped up next to her brother who wrapped one arm around her shoulders.
“Long have the Est’aren people prided the traditions of centuries past. We’ve built alliances, won wars, and conquered worlds as a single, united people. Today we will live on in that tradition with a promised union between two neighboring nations. Prince Azamar of Dalire has come to ask my sister’s hand in marriage. Will she choose to accept his proposal and continue to honor that which our fathers have set before us?” Kasinar’s face gleamed with pride as his people cheered, throwing a glance her way that threatened more than losing her freedom should she misbehave.
Kasinar took a step back and allowed the prince to move in front of him. Azamar knelt to one knee before Sierren and took her hand in his. His voice, deep and calm, rang out in the courtyard as he spoke to her. “Young princess, I make this promise to you in exchange for your hand. I will forever honor our union. I will protect you and our children to come until my last breath. I will serve you on the field of battle as you will our people at home. Will you honor me by becoming my bride?”
Sierren stared at him, not at all expecting a speech like that one. Her body shuddered under the intense nerves building within her, reminding her that her answer went against everything in her being. She inhaled slowly and then nodded, “I will.” Her voice seemed to echo though she spoke almost too quietly.
The crowd erupted once more as she declared her acceptance. Azamar stood and leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead. Her body tensed, but she did not pull away. Every part of her felt as if this was wrong, but it was already too late. She allowed him to guide her off the balcony and back into the palace, his grip light as if he were afraid she’d break if he held any tighter. She could hear her brother still speaking as they continued down the corridor.
“Tonight the ceremony will commence. All are welcome to celebrate with us on this joyous eve,” Kasinar finished before retreating from the balcony as well. He did not follow Sierren and Azamar, deciding it best to give them some time alone. He only prayed that she would behave herself until the ceremony was over. He had a nervous feeling that she would not.
“Why me?” she asked him, stopping abruptly as they entered the gardens. “I am certain I am not the only young budding princess to choose from.”
Azamar frowned at her question. Though Kasinar had warned him that she would be a great challenge, he still was not prepared. He sat on a stone bench engraved with gargoyles said to ward off the demons and evils that could destroy all that was pure in this world. He ran a hand through his hair and thought a moment before answering her question.
“It felt right,” he said calmly.
“Felt right?” Sierren whirled on him and moved in close, “Felt right?! It feels entirely wrong to me! I have never before felt such a strong sense of foreboding within my very core. Something about this is not right and I want you to tell me what it is you are up to.”
Azamar was taken aback by her affront. He had nothing to hide from her, no ill will or malice toward her or her people. “I am following the traditions of our race. It is my duty to choose a bride should her guardian see it a fit match. Kasinar agreed that it is the best move for all of us. I have nothing to hide from you, princess.”
He remained calm despite the harassment, but she did not seem convinced. Still, Sierren stepped away and walked across the grass, letting her bare feet enjoy the softness of nature. Her eyes traveled across the thriving plant life around her, breathing in the fresh, pure air and allowing it to calm her. A faint trickle of water caught her attention and she looked to the bubbling spring in the center of the grove.
“The essence of life is strong here. The garden grows and presents its peace and wisdom to those sick and weary.” She paused and knelt down, dipping her fingers into the cool water. Her eyes closed a moment as if she was waiting, but after only a few moments she sighed and stood once more. “It does not bring me peace.”
“Perhaps it is not you,” she continued and turned to look at him, her bright emerald eyes meeting his. “Perhaps this feeling I have is a warning for the both of us. Nevertheless, you will see that I am not easily tamed. King or not, I am meant for something greater than breeding. I do hope for your sake that you let me be.”
Azamar smiled at her and continued to speak in a calm demeanor, “Believe me, princess, I have no intention of barring you from your ambitions. If a bed mate were all I was after, you would not have been my first choice.” He stood and bowed, half mocking her before turning to leave. “I will see you at the ceremony, my little dove.”
She glared after him and felt the ache in her stomach ease just so. After waiting until his footsteps faded, she allowed herself to retire to her chambers for a time. Her gown had been prepared for her in her absence, but she paid it no mind. She climbed up on top of the locked chest below the window and looked out. The streets were busy with villagers preparing the feast. The city colors were adorned across great flags on one side of the street and another city’s colors, which she could only assume were Dalire’s, stretched on the opposite side.
Sierren watched the people as they laughed together, spirits high with excitement. Children ran through the streets with dolls and wooden swords, oblivious to the troubles of the old. How she wished she were still one of them. To be free and innocent again, even for one last day. That would be a great gift she could only dream of having. It was time to grow up. Today, on her birthday, she was a woman.
“My lady,” said a low, masculine voice muffled from outside her chambers. She knew that voice like no other and ran to the door. As it swung open, she threw herself at him and hugged him tightly.
Narcatas faltered slightly, but held his ground as he returned the embrace for a short moment. He eased her back and smiled down at her. “Walk with me,” he said and began to walk back down the corridor.
She watched him for a moment, taking in the sight of his dark hair and tall, muscular frame. She wanted to remember him this way, calm and unnerved by anything. It had only just struck her that she would never see her best friend again. Her footsteps echoed through the stone hall as she ran after him, only slowing to a walk once she had reached his side.
They walked in silence through the palace. No one spoke a word to them; many too busy preparing for the ceremony to pay them any mind. It gave her a sense of peace, really. It was as if they were afraid to say anything while he was there. He had always been protective of her, his mere presence in a room demanding respect. Perhaps this was why he had top ranks in all of his military training.
He led her to the stables where he’d already had two horses prepared for them. She frowned for a moment, glancing down at her gown. Kasinar would be less than happy to find such an expensive garment ruined. As the thought crossed her mind, she smiled and reached up to pull the tie holding her hair out, then climbed up into the saddle of her chosen horse.
Narcatas said nothing as he followed her lead, kicking off his horse as soon as he was securely seated. Sierren was not far behind as they raced out of the stables and through the streets. Several villagers had to hurry aside to avoid the horses’ trampling footsteps.
The ride through the countryside was refreshing. Sierren’s eyes took in all the beauty around her. Rahsvia was a beautiful place. It was filled with such fantasy and majesty. Osilien lay right in the center of it all. It was the capitol, where citizens would come from all corners of the world to study the arts of their people. Dalire, however…
“We’re here,” Narcatas said, bringing her out of her trance.
The hills began to slope deeper, the horses slowing to keep their balance. The path led them to the edge of a cliff where the hill dropped off to overlook a river. Menar River sliced the land in half, separating the great hills and fields from the wild forest beyond. They continued on the path along the edge of the cliff until it became too uneven for the horses to continue.
Sierren smiled for the first time in weeks. Not much farther. Narcatas took the lead while she watched, following his every movement with her eyes before mimicking them. He was so enchanting. Not a soul knew this secret they shared.
“My Lord, you summoned?” Azamar bowed politely as he approached the King of Osilien.
Kasinar looked grave as he gazed off the balcony, his hands resting on the smooth stone that stood between him and a long fall. “I must tell you something and pray that you will not stray from your promise. I worry about her. My sister, she is a very strong-willed young woman. She is magnificent and brilliant. She glows like the fire on a cold night and her passions light that fire.” He turned to face Azamar, “She is in love, Azamar. She does not know it, nor truly understand it. She will hate you for taking her from her home. You will be the fuel to her fire.”
Azamar watched the flames under the hearth as he listened. He pictured the young woman in that beautiful gown earlier in the day, “I understand. I will love her regardless.” He looked up and gazed evenly at Kasinar. “I know what I have asked of her and I know she will hate me. I will not stand in her way.”
“I do not think you understand. Her power could save this world, or it could be the one thing to destroy it. Please protect her. Teach her and honor her.” Kasinar seemed to look grim as he continued, “I have seen what the future brings. Disasters unavoidable… Please do not let her be the reason they occur.”
The wind whipped past her, lifting and tangling what remained of her curls. The world from above was intoxicating. The feel of the warm, sleek scales beneath her hands was exotic and exciting. Sierren inhaled the salty air as the ocean sprayed them with bits of water. “I will miss this... I wish it were not the last time I will be here…”
“Sie, I…” Narcatas stopped and looked on into the ocean.
“What?” she asked.
“I will miss you, but I have to stay away. I can’t… I can’t go with you. It is my duty to protect the king, I have sworn an oath…” he frowned deeply, expecting her to lash out at him.
“I know,” she responded. Sierren jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him. In this form, he could not refuse her embrace.
“We should go. You must not be late for your birthday celebration,” the great silver dragon stretched his wings before crouching to allow her to climb on his back.
Sierren felt tears slide down her cheeks as she climbed up carefully. She quickly wiped them away and wrapped her arms tightly around him once more.
Narcatas took one large stroke of his wings to lift them into the air. The mountainside flashed by them as he flew swiftly back toward Osilien. His heart ached for her, but he had always known that she would never be his. His only hope would be to keep her from him, to protect her from the horrors of the world.
Loving a dragon would never be good for her.
In the hours before the ceremony, Sierren found herself dizzied by the world around her. The servants had all left her to prepare the reception feast, but not before seeing to it that her gown was fitted to her form flawlessly. The design was exquisite and made just for the young princess. Her shoulders and back were decorated with ozien crystals, gems that were near-invisible to the naked eye, but would sparkled brilliantly in even the smallest amount of light.
A silver, metallic fabric that fit and moved like cloth on her body laced its way across her back and around her arms. The intricate designs it wove formed her country’s crest. White silk covered the remaining intimate areas on her torso, but the rest was left bare. Short sleeves just above her elbows draped from her arms until they disappeared into the folds of the fabric that made up the rest of her gown. The train stretched what seemed never-ending behind her as she approached the ballroom where the ceremony would take place.
Sierren pushed open the doors to the enormous room and her breath caught in her throat. It was as if she had walked into a painting. Eight chandeliers hung from the ceiling, each one adorned with blue and white gems which made the whole room glow. The floor was an ice blue with a white cloth running from the doors to the thrones on the opposite end. Pearly-white pillars that stretched from floor to ceiling lined the outer walls and were wrapped in the same blue and white gems.
But what made the room so breathtaking were the tall, beautiful windows that stood proudly between the pillars. Her eyes moved from one to the next, taking in the outside world they revealed to her. Each window projected the landscapes of other countries within Rahsvia. She knew that on the other side of these windows, those realms could see within the room she stood.
Her attention turned toward the two silver thrones as she approached them, though her eyes did not see them. Behind the thrones stood the largest window, this one particularly chosen as the centerpiece because it was Dalire, her soon-to-be home. Sierren reached out to touch the green trees that wrapped around a large, sloping hill, causing the image before her to ripple like water.
She closed her eyes and imagined what she would be doing if this day had never come. She saw flight over the ocean, lightning spirits in the grove, dancing in the market, and, of course, her best friend. It took everything in her to hold back the tears as she quickly retreated from the room, knowing soon the silence would be all but gone.
“Lady, it is time,” a voice said softly from behind her. She had been staring out the window watching her people enter the palace for this rare and special occasion.
Sierren did not speak as she followed the servant girl from the room. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, taking in her last moment of peace. Another servant followed behind her, holding the train of her gown just so it would not drag the floor.
Smiling and nodding, she politely greeted her guests as she passed them, the enormous ballroom still not large enough to hold all of Osilien’s citizens. Her heart race quickened when they finally reached the ballroom. Kasinar stood proudly before the crowd, Azamar at his side. Her eyes locked with her brother’s and she waited as he held up his hands to silence the room.
“Citizens of Osilien, of Dalire, and all of Rahsvia, we welcome you to this glorious occasion. Today, my beautiful little sister shall join spirits with Prince Azamar of Dalire. This union will greater strengthen the near unbreakable bond of our peoples,” Kasinar spoke loudly, only pausing a moment to allow the guests to settle their excitement.
Kasinar smiled and continued, “While our traditions pass through each generation, so also does the Est’ari legend. Few are blessed with the mightiest privilege of our people, those born with the mark of the Est’ari are to be revered and nurtured, for they are our future. The Greater T’ari have chosen Sierren to bear this mark.”
Sierren felt her heart nearly leap out of her as Kasinar spoke, not realizing that this had any significance to the occasion. Of course, any who looked at her would know she bore the mark. The Greater T’ari were titans of a sort and her people, the Est’aren, were beings of just slightly lesser magical ability. Every generation, the Greater T’ari would choose a single Est’aren to be blessed with all the magical prowess of their kind. What marked Sierren as the chosen one was her bright red hair and contrasting emerald green eyes.
The King held out his hand as if to reach for her and Sierren took the gesture as her cue to begin her slow, well-paced walk down the aisle. “With this humbling gift bestowed upon her, I have chosen Prince Azamar and his home in Dalire to be the place she will spend her days. Together, they will create and shape our ever-changing world into a more beautiful place.”
At last she reached him and took his hand as he guided her up the steps, Azamar following suit on the opposite side of her brother. Kasinar turned once more to his people and spoke the remaining words of his speech, “Let us now celebrate the future they will bring with the uniting ceremony!”
The room exploded with cheers that lasted what seemed much too long as the priest approached and took Kasinar’s place between them. He placed a bowl on a pedestal before them and took their hands before beginning his prayer.
“Behold, my lords and ladies, these two beings of purity. We pray to our Greatest that they bless this most beautiful of unions. We ask that they bring knowledge and humility to them in their times of triumph and times of failure. Princess Azamar and our anointed Est’ari, Princess Sierren, now ask for your blessing in the future before them,” the priest spoke with authority in his request to the Greaters, certain they would not deny what was destined to be.
As if in answer to him, the bowl in front of them lit up like the sun and all but Azamar and Sierren had to shield their eyes for a moment. The water-like substance in the bowl began to form images and Sierren knew these were of the possible future before them. Once the light dimmed to a flicker, the priest dipped their hands, each in turn, into the liquid. The images faded and the light vanished as the remainder of the magic within glowed at their fingertips.
“The Greaters have given their blessing!” the priest exclaimed. “Let us now celebrate as these two become one!” With that, the priest lifted their hands up and then stepped back. At last, Sierren and Azamar joined hands, their fingers lacing and that little ounce of magic enveloped them, surrounding them in brilliant light.
Sierren gasped as she felt him as if he were a part of her. She could hear his thoughts, feel his heart beating. She also felt something else explode within her, something incredibly powerful. The Est’ari magic within her, once dormant, was now alive and thriving, coursing through her like a river. Azamar had awakened her in the deepest sense… and she was now bound to him forever.