“Exactly where have you been, you insolent girl?!” My father's voice boomed through the dining chambers as he rose from his position at the head of the table and began (walking) toward me. His face deep crimson under his wiry white mustache and beard. “Thank the gods you are not the heir to my kingdom, surely it would crumble under the weight of trying to maintain itself while you satisfied whatever curiosity occupied your time.” His eyes studied me, judged me harshly, “Your inappropriate dress is a disgrace, you disrespect me and each member of the court by attending in your night garments!”
My eyes dropped to the floor and I clutched the book tighter against my chest. As if responding to my feelings of insignificance the book became warm against my breast. Beginning in my heart a melody pumped through my bloodstream and into my ears, drowning out the sound of the various members of the court seated around the grand oak table talking amongst themselves. A combination of peace and confidence filled me with each private note and my chin rose and my gaze met that of the king. I held my breath and my tongue as I awaited the inevitable continuation of his rant.
“The next time an enemy declares war on this land, I will offer your hand in marriage to the heir of that throne as I would ultimately have the victory when your thoughtlessness destroys them.”The stout man's height matched mine, our eyes fixed on one anothers and his finger pointed just inches from the tip of my nose.
Apart from the ocean blue eyes and fair skin, this man and I shared no other resemblance. In his youth, my father was a gallant figure. A prince who rode into battle at the side of his men, wielding a sword like no man in any nation or tribe. In times of peace, his laughter filled the halls and the ladies of the court were often caught daydreaming aloud about running their fingers through the golden waves of hair he kept bound at the nape of his neck. Only one woman ever won his favor, however, and she became his queen. My mother, the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh, was tall and slender. The caramel color of her skin perfectly reflected the sweetness within her soul. Her eyes were the color of honey, her hair straight, sleek, and as black as onyx. She smelled of lilacs and there are still times when, in the still of the night, as I float off to sleep her floral scent will drift into my room and bid me adieu as my mind wanders to the land of dreams. When I look into the mirror, t'is her face that stares back at me and the loneliness that haunts me since her disappearance fades.
“Father, she is not worth your anger. We have serious matters to discuss and her presence at the meeting is more of a formality than a necessity,” My brother appeared behind my father and placed a hand upon his shoulder. His appearance, like mine, also favored our mother, however, the gods blessed him the same rich skin and eyes as she. His chin tilted upwards ever so slightly in order for him to look down his nose in disgust upon me. My grip tightened on the gift clutched to my chest and my confidence did not waiver. Again, I remained silent as I stepped just past them and took my seat to the left of the King's empty chair.
“Now that we are all in attendance, our (meeting) can begin. As you are all aware, we are a peaceful nation, on good terms with those we share borders with. We have gained the respect of counties near and far because of our ability to negotiate fairly and remain steadfast in our values.” The King began, still standing, hands planted firmly on the table in front if him.
“A testament to our leadership, my Lord!” A voice rose from the man midway down the table as he raised a goblet in recognition of my father's (leadership).
“Nonetheless, this is not a time to become complacent. There is danger afoot, a danger we could not have prepared for.” His face grew more solemn yet, and pain filled his eyes as he continued, “I have been warned by the High Priest that we are coming upon a time where we will face an enemy unlike any we have ever met. The Gods granted him nothing more than the warning.”
“Then how shall we prepare? How will we fight?” My cousin, a Duke and one of my only allies in our family rose from his seat, he drew his hand across his waist and gripped the (handle) of his (sword).
“Be seated, nephew,” my father paced behind him and lowered him back into his seat with the weight of his palm on his shoulder. “I suggest, let it come. We will conquer the darkness with light. We will we will have the upper-hand on familiar land. We will stand strong and put forth a strong defense.”
With each word he spoke, I felt the blood rise into my face. My stomach twisted in knots at the thought of a battle, of any measure, in my Kingdom angered me. The idea put those I love so much in jeopardy, innocent lives would be risked. This could not happen. I could not let this happen. The thick wooden legs of my chair screeched on the floor as it slid from under me and I stood, “I object! Father, you can possibly be serious. You would bring danger onto our lands and risk the lives of our citizens? Do you understand that even children will be affected by this decision? No, there has to be another way.”
“I agree with Mi Lady, Your highness. We should strengthen our forces, and watch for the enemy at our borders. Attack them before they even have the opportunity to reach our soil. This will have an element of surprise and may catch them off guard. Send men out near and far to report any suspicious activities or oncoming (troops).” As the duke spoke his brown eyes met each other pair of eyes at the table. Sincerity and concern for the people of Solstice blanketed every word he spoke. He was the only son of my father's youngest brother and exemplified the bloodline perfectly. Confident and brave, proud and pure hearted, he was devoted as much to his family as he was to the Kingdom. He appeared to be the child of the union between the sun and ocean gods with his crystal blue eyes, fair skin, and wavy golden hair. I so often wished it was he who was first heir to the throne as he would make a King who would carry on the legacy of my father's rule nobly.
“We have no time line, no idea of when we will face this enemy, we simply have the warning. We can send men to evaluate the safety of our borders, we could send them as far as a weeks ride to analyze the threat, but I fear that will only raise concern and create a feeling of unease amongst our citizens. The Prince and I have spent many hours discussing our options, evaluating our allies as well as our (enemies), and pouring over strategies. We have simply called you here to vote.” The king's face remain expressionless, his voice even.
“All in favour of the King's proposed mission, say Ay.” My brother's voice echoed through the hall.
Agreement followed, from nearly every voice seated at the table. Uncertainty on the faces and in the tone of each person. Respect for The King's judgement and leadership had shadowed rationality.
“All opposed, day Nay.”
In unison, the Duke and I loudly declared our opposition.
“Majority rules. We will wait for the foreseen enemy. Our army will continue to train under the impression of preparedness.”
Chatter filled the chamber once again and quickly I made my way in the direction of the exit, seeking the solitude of my bedchambers in the Easternmost wing of the castle. My cousin's hand gripped my elbow as I brushed by him, his gaze demanded my attention, “Your father is wise and cares much for the people of his land. Have faith, Ayperi, we may not see it as he does but he has ruled for many years and has much experience.”
“He is being ignorant. He has grown weak and passive with age. I will not stand by and watch the people of this land be put in harms way, and I know you will not either, Gavin.”
“I will do what is right for the people, and right now that means obeying their king.” He released his hold and I hurried to my sanctuary.
I closed the heavy wooden door behind me as I entered the spacious bed chamber. I Placed the Siren's Book on my bed and began lighting the candles that lined the walls of my room. I pulled the soft linen of my gown over my head. I fell to my bed, comfortable with my nudity in the soft glow of the candles mixed with the gentle light beaming in from the afternoon sun through the line of tiny windows along the very top of my room. A soft breeze lifted the sheer canopy that draped the parameter of my (bed). I did not open the book, simply placed an arm over it as I drifted to sleep.
“You must take control of this situation, Ayperi, it is more dire than your father knows.” A male voice startled me from my slumber. I sat up to find a tall cloaked figure at the foot of my bed. He brought the hood away from his face and off of his head to reveal smooth bronze skin, piercing dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, and a face as beautiful as any imagined by the most talented sculptors. The sun had gone dark as night fell upon the earth. The flicker of the candle danced off of him, further adding to his mystery as well as mystery.
“Who are you and how did you get past the guards?” The threat in my voice and the power behind each word shocked even me.
“You know me as Nalag.”