Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chapter Four

Word Count: 2,501

The morning of Syndra-Kai’s Initiation dawned clear and bright. Today was a day like no other. Today, she became a woman, but not quite yet. Her actual transformation from child into woman did not begin until sunset; at that time, she and Malik-Tor would be alone in her chambers until morning.

First, she was bathed and perfumed. Next, she spent in a period of meditation. She prayed for tranquility and the courage to face her coming challenges. Unbidden thoughts of flesh entwined and the murmur of voices heated with passion had come to her in the night, and she wanted to feel free of their influences on this most important day.

Syndra-Kai received a pleasant surprise after her meditation. Her father came to dine with her; fortunately leaving Du-Karel to his own devices. Syndra felt guilty for her angry words of the day before, and greeted Na-Jakar warmly.

“My sweet Syndra-Kai, how wonderful it is to see your face. So often we have others that disturb our privacy, but after today, everyone in the Empire may gaze upon your loveliness.”

She blushed at these words of praise. “I too am happy to see you, Father,” she said as they sat down to eat.

“I remember the day of your mother’s Initiation,” Na-Jakar said suddenly.

“You do? Had you known her yet?” Syndra-Kai asked. Her father rarely spoke of her mother, but when he did, she hung on every word. The love and loss he felt apparent in his voice when he spoke of his beloved Heta-Nar.

“Yes, although of course I had never seen her face. I was already in love with her though. Her laugh at meals warmed my heart, and she was so intelligent and witty. She was the envy of her sisters to no end.” Na-Jakar paused to take a sip of wine, and to clear his throat, which was already thickening with emotion. Thusly refreshed, his voice grew steadier as he spoke.

“I was jealous of Xan-Rul. Even though it might cost me my manhood, I would have been more than willing to make that sacrifice to be the first man to lie with her, to see her face. Being of noble birth, however, I could never be her Chosen one.”

Syndra-Kai stared in wonder at her father. Usually their conversations were light, of no import. Today, he was very serious, though, and she dared not interrupt him. These moments were too precious.

“The day before her Initiation, your mother whispered to me that she was scared. We found ourselves in a corner, apart from the rest of the room, but without spies to overhear us. We used to live for such moments.”

“I asked her why she was scared, she should be excited that she would finally become a woman and be able to do more to help her mother, learning all she would need to someday become Empress herself. She confessed that she did not know what exactly would happen. They did not bother to educate her as to what ‘lying with a man’ meant.” Na-Jakar looked at his daughter carefully and tenderly. “Later, when you were born, I told Xan-Rul to not let that mistake happen again. I trust you are prepared?”

Syndra-Kai blushed again. “Yes, Father, Xan-Rul has prepared me as much as he is able. I know what is expected.”

“Good, then,” he nodded. “I have always meant to tell you that I am sorry for this. I know your mother intended to discard this custom. Taken from us as she was, she never had the opportunity. She thought she had so much more time. Xan-Rul tells me of your intention to do the same.”

“I assure you Father, it is one of my first priorities when I become Empress,” she said.

“You are so much like your mother,” he said. “She was so small, but so strong. Not like me. I know I have failed you as a father, I have probably failed your mother as Regent as well.”

“Father, I know you loved her. Your souls entwined and part of you left with her when she died. I understand, and I still love you. You have always been loving and kind to me, and have given me everything you could. As far as the handling of the Empire, she was raised for this; you were unprepared. I am sure you have done what you thought best. Being taken from us so soon was a tragedy no one could have foreseen.” She reached out and took his hand in hers, tears in her violet eyes.

“I would see you happy, daughter. What wish could I grant you on this most momentous day? It is your birthday after all.”

Syndra-Kai thought for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Xan-Rul told me yesterday that I will not be pronounced True Empress for another year. I would like your permission to travel. I want to see my country, talk to its people. I want to see faraway places that I may never have the opportunity to see once I am Empress, because my duties will keep me here. Will you grant me this, and guarantee no interference?”

“But what of marriage? When will you have the time to find an appropriate suitor if you will spend your year traveling instead?” Na-Jakar asked.

“I will return before my year is up, Father. Plenty of time to find me a suitable husband,” she replied.

“Very well, daughter, you have my permission to travel, and see what you may. We will make plans tomorrow, and you may gather your entourage.” He smiled, taking her hands and drawing her to her feet. “I will see you later, at the dinner in your honor. Every noble in Lunatium is here today to be present for your Initiation. Perhaps one of them may catch your eye as a potential mate, yes?”

Syndra-Kai laughed. “Yes, perhaps. I think I will walk in the garden today. It is always so peaceful, and this early warm weather is welcome.”

“That sounds like a splendid idea, my dear. Go in joy,” Na-Jakar said.

“Go in joy, Father,” Syndra replied.

As the door closed behind him, she burst into tears.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

Malik-Tor was dealing with his own fears in his room. He had not been permitted to leave the palace, but Xan-Rul had granted permission for his family to visit, and they had just arrived. His brother, sister, and mother hugged him tightly as they sat down to talk.

Roi-Iman was the first to speak. “This is madness, brother. Are you really going to go through with this?”

Malik leaned forward, “Yes, and no, Brother.”

Roi-Iman whispered back, “What do you mean?”

“I have met with the Princess, and she has no love of this farce any more than I. She has promised to help me escape tonight.”

Malik’s mother exclaimed in fright, “No!”

“Sh, Mother…” Malik started, as the door to the hall opened and a guard looked in.

“Is everything alright?” he asked.

“Yes, my mother is just distraught and overjoyed at the same time over my honor today,” Malik-Tor answered.

The guard looked doubtful, but shut the door again.

“Mother, please listen. This is probably the last time I will be able to see you, at least for a long time.” He hugged her tightly. “We must be quiet, I am sure I am watched in case I try to escape before the Initiation. Anything that is overheard here will be reported to the Chancellor.”

“But, Malik, if you flee the palace, where will you go? You will be outlawed!” Thankfully, his mother had lowered her voice to a fearful whisper.

“Wherever I wish, Mother. I will go back to the life I have been living for years now. I only came home to see Father, and he is gone now. You do not need me, you have Roi-Iman, and it is right he should take Father’s place.” He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I thought I could help this country, and I think this is how I am meant to do it. Princess Syndra-Kai is her mother’s daughter, and has been taught well by Xan-Rul. We spoke much yesterday, and he told me some of what she hopes to do as Empress. She will be a good leader, despite her youth. He will be there to guide her; she does not need me as her Companion.”

Malik’s sister hugged him tightly. “Go with joy, Brother. I am sorry you will miss seeing your family grow, but I understand. We all do. It has never been your destiny to be a mere commoner in the city. You are seeing wonders that even our future Empress will never see. Through your words, you bring enlightenment. I wish you well, and I will pray for you.” Da-Faren was a woman of few words, but she spoke with certainty.

Malik looked to his mother and brother. “Wish me well?”

His mother began to cry, softly. “Go with joy, my son.”

Having received his family’s blessing, Malik’s heart lightened. His mother and sister left the room, leaving Roi-Iman alone with Malik.

“What makes you so sure this Princess means what she says?” he said doubtfully.

“She has shown me her face,” Malik replied.

“But that is forbidden!”

“Yes, she did it as a show of faith, so that I would believe her. She broke a taboo, and by that single act, she proved herself. She means what she says, Brother, I saw it in her face.”

“So was she pretty?” Roi-Iman waggled his brows.

Malik-Tor laughed. It was just like his brother to joke at such a serious moment. It helped relieve the tension in the air.

“She was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, Brother. Her husband will be very lucky.”

Roi whistled through his teeth. “It seems to me that you might be the lucky one, Brother. You shall be her first. It is rare a woman impresses you, let alone one that will someday be Empress. You must teach her well, and then her husband will truly thank you.”

Malik shook his head. “No, Brother, she may be beautiful and smart, and someday she will be an admirable woman, but she is still very young. I would feel wrong to take advantage of her when she is doing so much for me. She does not wish it; she told me herself that she intended to discuss alternate methods when the time came.”

“And just how does she intend to fool her husband when he discovers she is still a virgin on their wedding night?”

“I shall just have to tell her to find some young fool that won’t know the difference,” Malik replied. “Or she may be one of those few women that have no pain and show no signs during their first time.”

“That is still a great risk she takes.”

“Well, that is her risk, not mine. Once she is Empress, she can do whatever she wants anyway. All I care about is leaving this palace in one piece. The whole thing is just madness, as you say.”

Roi-Iman nodded. “You have the right of it, Brother. I must be going; we have permission to walk in the garden. Go with joy.”

“Go with joy, Brother. Until we meet again.”

The brothers embraced; a quick, fierce hug that spoke more than words of their sense of loss. Just when fate had brought Malik home, it was tearing him away again. Alone again, Malik-Tor hoped he was right in his convictions and that the Princess indeed would not betray him.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

Outside, in the walled garden, Syndra-Kai strolled, lost in thought. She wished she did not have to wear the stupid veil and many disguising layers of her costume. As she lifted her arms to the sun, she could feel the cool breeze against her skin where it was exposed. She stopped to smell one of the sweet flowering vines that climbed one of the palace walls. She heard crunching gravel behind her.

“Princess? I beg your pardon.”

Syndra-Kai turned and saw two women coming towards her on the graveled garden path, a young woman about twenty years of age, followed by an older woman who must have been her mother. She turned and nodded, her veil fluttering in the breeze.

Both women bowed low, and as the younger woman raised her eyes, Syndra knew she had to be Malik-Tor’s relative. The same tawny gold eyes shimmered as they tried to peer through the concealing veil. Seeing only a vague shadow, Da-Faren summoned her courage and spoke softly so her voice would not carry on the wind.

“I have just come from my brother, Malik-Tor, Your Highness. He told me of your plan to help him escape his fate as your Companion, and I hope you do not think he betrays your confidence by speaking with his family and saying good-bye.”

“I am happy to hear that Malik-Tor’s family was anxious about his health, given the regrettable circumstances that brought him here to my aid,” Syndra-Kai replied. “I am not distressed, so long as what you have learned today remains known only to us and none other. Loose tongues could be everyone’s undoing.”

“I assure you, Princess; only my mother, brother, and I know of your plan. My brother stayed behind for a few last brotherly words with Malik and will be along in a moment to escort us home,” Da-Faren said.

Syndra-Kai nodded, and Malik-Tor’s mother spoke. “My son has long been away from home, and we have always known it was not his destiny to remain with us for any long period of time. I can only thank you for sparing him what you both feel is the indignity of an antiquated ceremony. I hope one day he might return to us, and I will pray for that day. Until then, go with joy, Your Highness.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she turned away. Espying Roi-Iman standing near the gate of the garden that would lead them away from the palace, she hurried to his side.

Da-Faren lingered just a moment longer. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as well. Syndra-Kai could see the strength and the effort it cost her to keep her emotions in check.

“I love my brother, Princess. Swear to me that you will do what you can to enable him to come home to us one day,” she said.

“I swear to you, as your Empress, I will bring your brother home. Go with joy, sister,” Syndra-Kai replied.

Da-Faren turned and joined her mother and brother. He ushered them through the gate, and Syndra-Kai was once again alone with her burden of responsibility. More than ever, she felt the pressure upon her to change the way things were.


Arielle said...

I like "Go with joy." I wonder if people will look at me funny if I start using that phrase. So next chapter it gets steamy, right? Can't wait!

Kestrel said...

I don't know where the "Go with joy" thing came from except I was trying to think of a formal good-bye, and it just happened. Malik also has used the phrase "my star", which he uses when he is feeling tender towards a female, that will be explained later too.

Yes, I think I'll have to start using a disclaimer next chapter... pesky characters... they just start doing things I never thought of until I start writing. Does that ever happen to you?

Arielle said...

Yeah, but I think it's a good thing. It almost gives them a life of their own. You just have to chaperone a little bit so they don't get too off topic. ^.^

Anonymous said...

I think it's cute when characters have a certain saying. It makes them more human. Ever hang around someone who always uses the same phrase? I say "50 million times" A LOT.