Monday, September 15, 2008

Chapter Five

Word Count: 2,707

Sunset approached, and Syndra-Kai’s insides started to flutter, as if a bird was struggling against the confines of her ribcage and her belly. As Xan-Rul took her hand to lead her to her last dinner as the child Princess of the Empire of the Silver Crescent, she laid a hand over her heart, as if to still its mad pace.

“It is normal to be nervous, Princess. Calm your fears, you have met everyone present at some point in time, and they are all here to serve witness to your transformation into womanhood. It is a blessed thing.”

“Is Malik-Tor already inside?” Syndra-Kai asked.

“Not yet, you will take the seat of honor, and the Chosen one will be announced and join you there. Since you cannot show your face yet, you will not eat. You will serve Malik-Tor the first bite of each dish, after the poison-taster, of course.”

It was an unfortunate fact, but attempted poisonings at Imperial dinners were quite common throughout its long history. As a preventative measure, the palace employed a poison-taster, whose sole job was to taste each dish before serving to the rest of the guests. If the poison-taster showed signs of illness after tasting a dish, servants removed it from the table and a new poison-taster brought in. This would prevent guests from being disturbed in the event a poison-taster should fall dead at their feet. Luckily, no assassination attempts had been made in Syndra-Kai’s lifetime.

“I am to serve him?”

“Yes, Princess. Now, come. You know all of this already. Are you trying to stall?”

Xan-Rul knew her so well. If he could have seen her face, he would see a flush creep over its lovely countenance. Syndra-Kai desperately wished that she could be anyone at this moment than the Princess of Lunatia. More than the farce of this evening’s dinner concerned her; final preparations were complete to carry out Malik-Tor’s escape from the palace, and she was worried she might fail.

Xan-Rul pulled her forward to face the double doors leading to the Great Hall, where only days before, she had Chosen Malik-Tor to serve as her life-long Companion. He gave her a gentle nudge in the small of her back, and she stood straight, summoning her strength.

I am Princess Syndra-Kai, future True Empress of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent, she told herself. I am the most powerful woman in the world, and I shall not show weakness.

The double doors opened slowly, and she heard Du-Karel’s voice ring out in the Hall, crying her name. There was a loud rustling as her guests rose to their feet in honor, and faced her. Long tables filled the Hall, spaced apart along the axis of the room, creating a wide path for Syndra-Kai to reach the dais at the northern end. A table and two chairs stood there for Syndra and Malik. They would be the only people at the head table, and every eye in the room would be watching them.

Raising her head high, Syndra-Kai began the long march to the dais. She did not nod to acknowledge anyone in the vast audience, though she did indeed recognize many of the nobles present. As she passed, the company regained their seats in her wake. When she reached the dais, a servant came forth to take her hand and lead her to her chair. She did not sit, instead turning to face the assemblage and the doors that had been closed behind her.

Du-Karel’s voice lifted again, announcing her Chosen one, Malik-Tor. “All arise, the Chosen one comes! Malik-Tor of Lunatium!”

The doors opened again, revealing Malik to the curious stares of the palace guests. Syndra-Kai glowed with pride. He had bathed and changed into an outfit that had been designed specifically for him. It was simple in style, but his physique showed off the cut to perfection. It was a simple leather doublet, cut away at the shoulders, to reveal the powerful muscles beneath. Malik-Tor’s tanned skin gleamed from the bath oils he had been pressured to apply.

Malik-Tor moved forward into the Hall, not an ounce of fear or uncertainty present on his face. Like Syndra-Kai, he cast not a glance to either side, holding his head proudly, almost arrogantly. Syndra-Kai could see the women present in the Hall turn to each other to murmur in appreciation of his form, and she grew warm, her body tingling. She was thankful for the disguising veil for once; as she feared her face would display the shameless lust she was feeling at sight of him. She could not have been more proud at how he was handling the situation. For a brief moment, she had a vision of him coming towards her, not as her Chosen one, but as her husband, with all of her guests looking on with pride as well. She shook the impossible thought away almost as suddenly as it arrived.

Malik-Tor waved away the servant’s assistance, and climbed the dais to stand at the side of his chair. He did not look over at Syndra-Kai, and she felt disappointed. No doubt, he was still angry at the part she had chosen for him to play.

Du-Karel’s whining voice rose again, and Syndra-Kai cringed, as did most of the audience.

“Proud guests, noble families, we have come together this day to honor Princess Syndra-Kai. She is this evening on the cusp of entering her womanhood, and she has Chosen a man from among the common population to usher her into it.” Du-Karel placed an unseemly amount of emphasis on the word ‘common’, and both Syndra-Kai and Malik-Tor stiffened in anger.

“Join us, dear friends and honored guests, as we feast in their honor!” He lifted his goblet to the dais. As usual, he was standing next to her father, at the table closest to the dais. Her father’s face shone with pride, and not a little sorrow. She knew he remembered the day her mother had sat here in her place. As well, he grieved as parents grieve, when their child reaches adulthood.

Every goblet in the Hall raised, and every guest took a drink. When the goblets lowered, Du-Karel finally took his seat. This signaled the beginning of the meal, Syndra-Kai and Malik-tor took their seats as well. Musicians hidden behind the dais began to play softly, lilting music that floated around the room and lent a surreal aspect to the atmosphere.

Syndra-Kai leaned nearer to Malik and whispered, “You did well, Malik-Tor. You have honored me. I thank you.”

“’Tis no less than you deserve, Princess. I have sworn I would play the role for you, and so I shall. No thanks are needed.”

Syndra felt a little ashamed at his reminder that this evening was just a performance. They were merely going through the motions to impress their guests, and as soon as he was able, he would be gone from her life forever.

Servants began to line up in front of them, presenting dishes. Syndra took a small piece from the first dish with her fingers, and raised it to Malik’s lips as custom demanded. He grabbed her wrist. “What are you doing?”

The servants in front of them blocked the view of the audience, so no one could see the drama unfolding upon the dais. The servants however, gasped in shock that he would dare touch the Princess yet, let alone speak to her in such a harsh manner. Syndra-Kai did not waver.

“It is custom, Malik-Tor. You are honored today as well. I am to serve you the first taste of each dish. You may tell the servants if you approve, and they will give you a portion for your meal.”

Malik’s brows drew together. “No one told me of this, I am sorry.” He did not release her hand, however. His golden eyes searched for her own behind her veil. He lifted her hand to his lips. His mouth closed over her fingers, and he tasted the rich meat. She felt a slight suction at her fingertips as he sucked the juices there. She shuddered.

Malik released her hand and nodded to the servant. They continued the ritual, Syndra-Kai reaching for each dish, and raising each bite to Malik’s mouth. Every time his lips closed around her fingers, she felt a sharp jolt, and she was thankful for her chair. It was a surety that her legs would not have been able to hold her steady as he continued his sensual onslaught. Her very innards seemed made of jelly.

Bemused at his own behavior, Malik-Tor pondered his own reaction to Syndra-Kai’s presence; he had no intention of bedding her, or did he? He knew what her face looked like beneath her veil, and he imagined those full lips closing on his own fingers as he was doing to her. He knew how he was affecting her by what he was doing, and yet he deliberately continued. His imagination continued to lead him down a path of lust, and he saw her face contorted in ecstasy as he pleasured her.

The torture continued, as the stream of dishes to taste seemed never-ending. At last, Malik saw there were only one or two servants waiting. He turned to Syndra-Kai and said, “I was beginning to think I would never see the end of these dishes. I feel near to bursting.”

She laughed merrily. “Indeed, I think the cooks have outdone themselves this time. I myself am starving. I haven’t eaten a thing since this morning, I’ve been too nervous,” she admitted.

“You haven’t eaten? With all this food in front of you? Take some, then.” He reached out for a morsel of pastry.

“No, I can’t lift my veil yet! Not until tomorrow. I am fine, I will have the servants bring some to my chambers,” Syndra said.

“Nonsense. You have been feeding me all evening. I can reach beneath your veil and feed you. Is that permitted? I am, after all, your Chosen one,” Malik said.

Syndra-Kai hesitated. It was not expressly forbidden that she not eat in public, just that she not show her face. Abstaining from food in the presence of others was merely a precaution. She could not see the harm in it. She nodded assent.

Suddenly, Malik-Tor found the tables turned on him, and the same exquisite torture he had been inflicting on Syndra-Kai all evening now found him. Beneath the cover of the veil, Syndra’s lips fastened onto his fingers and began to suckle gently, long after the food he had given her was gone. He stifled a groan, and reluctantly withdrew his hand.

Leaning very close to her, he whispered, “Princess, you do not know what you do to me. I must ask that you stop or we shall have to end this meal prematurely.”

“Oh no, is everything alright? Why would we need to stop the meal? We must stay until we are escorted…” She gasped suddenly, as Malik-Tor had taken her hand, and under cover of the table and its drapery, he had placed it in his lap. Hard evidence of his arousal shocked her, and she froze. A soft ‘oh’ was all she could say.

Malik-Tor’s eyes sparkled with mischief as he reached for another morsel to feed her. He would have given his life at that moment to see the expression on her face. He found his way beneath the veil again and placed the food against her lips. He felt her small teeth nibble at it delicately. He laughed, attracting the attention of the tables closest to the dais, including that of Du-Karel, who eyed him suspiciously. Syndra-Kai giggled as well.

“Very well, Princess, you win. We shall have food brought up to your chambers instead. I cannot take this much longer.” He pressed the hand he still held in his lap, a quick hard nudge against his inflamed manhood, and released her.

Suddenly feeling quite naughty, instead of removing her hand immediately after he released it, she explored its hidden length with a leisurely stroke. Malik-Tor’s breath caught in his throat and he snatched her hand away quickly.

“Princess!” He whispered fiercely. “I beg you, leave off. If you wish, we can continue this later.” He leaned in very close to her ear as he said this, and she could feel his warm breath on her neck through the intervening veil. It was like the softest caress, filled with promise of excitement and pleasure to be had. She wished fervently for the dinner to be over.

Whispers filled the hall as the guests watched these intimate exchanges from afar. Though they were not privy to the extent of the teasing that was taking place upon the dais, it was apparent to every eye in the room that Syndra-Kai and Malik-tor shared a special connection.

“It is such a shame; a man like that should be preserved wholly,” one woman commented.

A man near her clutched himself in mock agony. “Better him than I!” The entire table laughed.

“I heard that he is the same man that convinced all the Eligibles in the city to avoid the Choosing. Why do you think he would do such a thing?” Another woman said.

“The whole idea of forcing a young girl like that to give her virginity to a commoner off the streets, it is just appalling. Not to mention what they do to him afterwards,” yet another said. “The whole thing should have been stopped years ago.”

“Judging by the looks of things up there, it would appear that our Princess seems much taken with her Chosen one. I don’t think there will be much forcing on anyone tonight,” a man said.

“Where do I know the name Malik-Tor? It sounds familiar,” someone asked.

“He is the explorer that writes about the other countries of the world, their customs and governments and such,” was the reply.

“Oh! Is he the same one? What a pity! Tutors throughout the country are beginning to use his work as texts to teach their students. Will she make him a prominent advisor do you think?”

“What she should be able to do is make him her husband. We could use a strong hand in the palace. Unfortunately, being born a commoner makes him ineligible for that. I suppose our little Syndra-Kai is showing some of her mother’s spark in Choosing such an intelligent man. Maybe now we can get some things accomplished in this country,” said yet another person.

Conversations such as these swirled around the room. Du-Karel heard snippets and his frown continued to deepen into a scowl. Indeed, the very thought of a commoner serving alongside the Empress was preposterous. He thought the Princess’ choice very fitting for another reason. Any commoner that would presume to become a learned man, a position normally reserved for those of the nobility, by rights should be brought down a notch or two. He, for one, anticipated with great joy the moment this rabble would be unmanned, and the Princess could be openly courted. He had spent every bit of energy he had insinuating himself into her father’s graces, and waited many years for this day. He intended to become the man destined to wed her. It mattered not what she had to say about the matter, he knew that so long as she was not yet the True Empress, she must abide by her father’s wishes, and marry whom he chose for her.

Unable to take the flood of admiring comments about Malik-Tor any longer, he rose to announce that the Princess and her Companion would retire for the evening. He felt Malik’s eyes boring into him as he spoke. Du-Karel was cutting the festivities short, and his action had been duly noted by those glowing amber eyes. Du-Karel shrugged off the niggling sense of disquiet that steady gaze caused him and proceeded anyway.

Syndra-Kai and Malik-tor both rose, and he assisted her from the dais. They walked down the aisle of guests, who were still dining, yet had stood awkwardly when Du-Karel had spoken. In their wake, the guests sat once more, motioned to continue their meal.

1 comment:

_-*Kristen*-_ said...

ooooo is there something juicy coming up in a minute?