Crisp cold mountain air fills my lungs smoothly as I sit up. The Mountains of Yovishna are some of the most beautiful, not because of their height or because of its view of endless trees, but because it wraps me like a blanket. The air is thick with fog and humidity as I sit up, jaw stretching wide as I yawn. Birds chirp lightly and land on the branches as I take my hair down from its night wrap, protecting it from the harsh mountain grounds and weather.
I take the gold bands from my pack and begin taking thick pieces of hair and twisting them into even thicker braids which I finish off with my bands. After my hair has been taken care of I work my way down to the river and undress. I stop myself from fully submerging myself under water for my hair is already done and washed. I pick out my clothes meticulously. Bright fabrics of all different colors and patterns stare up at me as I choose my favorite shades of blues, greens and a splash of purple. The colors of a peacock, I’m not a peacock, I am no class at all so I am bound by no rules.
Once I have dressed, packed my things and rubbed medication into my legs, I start my walk down the mountains. The down hill is far easier than the uphill, yet I still heave myself over boulders and avoid other parts of nature that I would rather not interact with. I am used to walks like these, loosening and tightening my leg braces to fit the type of work I’m doing, keeping my spell book at my hip and double checking to be sure my beads hang at my neck. Now I have one more thing I keep checking, a letter.
The letter was sent to me at my temporary home at the banks of Arabora. At first the letter made me sick and I contemplated letting it burn or throwing it to the waves for my sea sister to laugh at. Then I bit my lip and considered how wondrous it would be to show the council what I have become, the runes and tattoo’s that decorate my skin, the beads of royalty given to me by my mother and the education I have acquired without their assistance. Pride and spite are the death of all things and yet I still allow them to impact my life in ways such as this.
Now I inch closer to the town I was brought to at nine and kicked out of at seventeen. The path is mostly empty, aside from a singular mule drawn wagon, I see no one on the gravel and dirt road. You would think by now silence would be my friend, but it is something I have not yet made friends with quite yet. I hum and whistle and sing, even bringing out my tambourine at one point, desperate to fill the void of silence with my noise. The birds of the sky swoop lower and the tree’s seem to bend with my sound. I spin and dance as much as my legs will allow today as the gates of the high city come into view.
The guards stand higher and stiller as I finish the notes of my song. Laugher bubbles in my throat as I slip my tamborine back into my satchel and the guard eye me carefully. One woman a little over half their ages can make them freeze in their boots. I take great pleasure in teasing them by acting as if I’m about to grab one of the beads at my neck, until finally bringing out my letter.
“Don’t worry gentlemen, I come in peace.” A smile pokes at my lips as I hand it to one of the guards.
“You can not be serious?” The guard asks, holding up the letter.
“Escort me to the council house if you must. To answer your question, though; I am indeed quite serious,” I chuckle, they all shiver as I do so.
“I’ll take you up on the escort offer,” The guard says, gesturing at one of the others.
“I don’t suggest you touch my arm,” I note as the guard assigned to me reaches for it. “Must I remind you of what and who I am?” The guard lets their hand drop and just gestures for me to follow as the gates creak open.
Crows flutter and squawk as I step foot into town and the guard immediately becomes tense. My dear blood-mother is watching over me, for the crows are her’s. People think I am the same as my mother, powers blood curdling terrifying, they aren’t. I am not my mother, I am her child. While I have the power far beyond mortal scope, I am no death goddess, nor one of decay and darkness.
I have my own skills that can stand their own ground, terrifying in ways that are not as obvious. My mother is a creeping darkness, one that hangs in the air and makes you cold at night. My sister is an obvious terror one you can not run from or plan, earth that can suddenly swallow you, flooding that can kill a town and earthquakes will knock down the strongest of structers. My brother is an existential horror, somethign that begins bright and wonderful but can drag and torture if it doesn’t do as you wish, rain once calming now smashing your home, wind once no where to be found now ripping out trees. My own horror is one of a person's own mind, thoughts twisting into confusing conjunctions, art that pours out of your soul for the world to see and the unending need for more, while also scared to see what is ahead.
It’s rather funny to me that people once thought that the gods were a source of good, a source of good for them to pray to and ask for things. The reality is gods are nothing but mortals who are more. They are made of more everything, more life and more magic especially. There is nothing inherently special about gods, the true specialty of them are their immortality, power and rarity. They are not saviors or higher beings, they are not but humans born out of more. To think otherwise is a fools notion.
As I walk the crowded streets of my former home people stare at me. Most are dressed in grays and browns with tiny pops of color, mostly sparrows and nightingales with an owl or hummingbird every once in a while. People's eyes pop seeing me in the shades of a peacock while being nothing short of an exile. It’s almost amusing watching mothers pull their children away and fathers chastise their elder sons and daughters for staring. My guard, a falcon, squirms as I begin humming the start to my mothers song.
Eyes of ash and souls of coal
All life has been foretold
Down below no where else to go
My bones are steel my flesh is gold
My heart is hard and nothing short of cold
People’s face shift to terror and amazment as words leave my lips. Gods voices are more than mortals, they hold more power and more sound, mine more than others due to the powers gifted to me. My voice, mind and hands are my power. They are the things that make me who and what I am. A goddess of things lacking one before my birth. Song and voice being two.
We reach the town Council House, it's nothing short of extravagant. Gold pillars and accents around windows and doors. Windows stretch high and low shining brightly in the early morning sun peaking through the gray clouds. The gardens are large and winding with flora, clay bricks pressed with names of former council members. Snow peppers the grass and trees gentally. Students, studying to work in government, wander around clutching papers and boxes of mother knows what. The winter break begins tomorrow for Polvoshki, surely they are all finishing work so they won’t have to on their break.
I begin to sing again, this time a song of my own, a blessing to the student just desperate to please. I watch them move faster, the spark returns to their eyes and smiles even spread on faces. My guard become suspicious, but his mouth stays sealed as he pushes open the Council House doors, allowing me inside for the first time in five years.
The halls are crowded with a mixture of workers and students. Students draped in startling white robes rimmed with the colors of their future class. Workers are a mix of owls, dressed in whites browns and some reds, falcons, grays, browns and deep blues, cardinals, reds, gold yellow, white and black, and hummingbirds bright pinks, greens, yellows and purples. All are sharp and now people don’t take time out of their day to ogle instead continuing onto wherever they are needed. Plaques and paintings hang on the walls, councilors, intelligent workers and historical events all have paintings. Artifacts sit in magically sealed cases, shimmering swords, ancient jewelry and stolen artifacts.
I ask my guard about his studies, seeing he has a student band around his wrist, he doesn’t respond with an answer but just tells me to keep moving. I hum away as we reach the crystal double doors, they’re translucent and carved with the symbols of the gods before me, how disrespectful of them to not add one for me. Despite their blatant disrespect I walk past the guards flinging the doors open with no more effort than that it takes to lift a leaf.
The six councilors sit in a giant U shape, each sitting upon what can only be called a throne. Malvaria Bosque, the head of owls sit’s closest to the door on the right. Next to Malvaria sit’s the head of swans, Alexine Porvan. One the left sit’s Sir Torvil Halborine, head of the falcons and next to him sit’s Pavarti Tala, head of cardinals. Lastly in the middle of it all is head councilor Thomas Meverin, a peacock and next to him is his wife Dr. Ulissia Shambori, head of hummingbirds.
“Why hello council members, I didn’t expect to see you all so soon-,” I puse grining taking in their faces of shock at my relaxed tone, “-I thought I’d see you when I go to visit my mother!” I laugh, but they recoil glaring at me as I pull on the band at my wrist whipping out my cane to lean on.
“Ah sorry Mx. Alexine but it would be Dr. Zulan , I didn’t go to school for nothing!” I grin as their eyes widen to the size of plates.
“Well Dr. Zulan Samir-Covilch, the council has taken your exile into deep consideration over the past few months, and we are willing to lift your ban,” Head councilor Meverin is an older man, at least fifteen years older than his wife, his hair is mostly white and his dark blue robes clash with his piercingly red eyes.
“If the ban is to be lifted though, you must work for the council house for a minimum of four years as a falcon at bronze rank, to be sure of your loyalty,” The second the words leave young Sir Halbotine’s lips I let a sharp laugh escape the depths of my chest, for a good few minutes I can’t stop and I steady myself with my walking stick.
“You know I’m not quite sure what else I should have expected!” My eyes glaze over all the councilors.
“It’s only five years, isn’t that nothing to someone such as yourself?” Mrs. Bosque asks sharply.
“Mrs. Bosque I am still but a young god! Five years is still five years to many! I will work for you soon as I will die by a mortal blade, so unless you perform a miracle my loyalties lie with no one but myself!” My voice has grown too loud for their mortal ears and they clutch them, as I feel magic pulse through my veins as smoothly as blood.
“You are an immature child,” Head Counselor Meverin hisses as he removes his hand from his ears.
“Hm thank you for pointing that out, I didn’t notice I thought I was a thousand years of age!” this actually get’s a slight chuckle from Dr. Shambori, who promptly hides her mouth behind her hand.
“Well the offer still stands, Dr. Samir. If you change your mind, send a letter to my department,” Mrs. Bosque signs pinching her tiny nose.
“I don’t think I will, but that is noted,” I shrug, glancing around. “That’s really all I have to say,”
“Does anybody have anything to add to the discussion of Dr. Samir’s statements or possible return to Kolspo?” Head Counselor Meverin asks, I raise my hand with a small smile.
“I think you should put my symbol on the door.” The counselors all turn towards the crystal doors.
“That is noted, but irrelevant-,” Councilor Meverin picks up his bell, that stupid bell, “-meeting adjourned!” With that all the councilorse begin to get out of their seats, except Dr. Shambori.
Dr. Shambori, a young looking woman, stares at me with wide green eyes. I remember when I was first cast out of Kolspo, she barely spoke, just staring at me as my heart-parents hugged me tightly and I weeped. Her large green eyes are rather similar to one of my own, it’s strange and it makes me uncomfortable. Finally though after a good moment of just staring at each other she turns away, walking off with her insufferable husband who did this to me in the first place.
After the council leaves I stand waiting for a guard to collect me, but none comes. I wait a bit longer, no one comes. I’ll take it as a sign I’m allowed to leave on my own, good I still wish to go see my heart-parents, this will be the first time in years I’ve been able to see them for the winter holidays. Most years I’m able to sneak into town for the summer solstice, but I can rarely make it in for winter holidays like Polvoshki. Prisscilla and Rey will be excited, in fact Rey probably knows I’m here already seeing how much the wind talks to him.
By the time I’m back outside snow has begun to fall and my legs are aching more. I’ll take a potion when I get to my childhood home, Rey always has them practically lying around. The streets have begun to thin due to the lack of things to do midday, and most children being in school. I’m grateful for the clear path but eventually I grow tired and decide walking is a bit too tiring.
I find a nice shadow, a big one covering a large scope of ground, before pressing my foot hard against the earth. Most times I will walk right over shadows, but when I call upon the powers of my mother I melt right through the ground and into the void of shadows. I hold my breath, searching for a shadow close to my destination. I find on under the tree across from my home pulling myself out of it, rather ungracefully.
I cough as cloudy shadow air exits my lungs and I straighten up, staring at the neighbor who stopped to watch me. I wave at her, she waves back before continuing on. Turning around I come face to face with my heart-fathers winter garden, stark blue and white flowers all powdered with snow.
The smells of spices and baked goods floats through the front garden, Rey is already preparing for Polvoshki, as he always does. I remember helping him make pie and pastry crusts as a young girl into teenagehood, Prisscilla tried to help once, we never made that mistake again. The smells of the garden and baking remind me of a comfortable childhood. They were the first people to make me feel secure and sure, still they feel like that anchor keeping me coming back.
It’s nice to be home.
Arriving home is always a pleasant experience, my heart-father Rey and heart-mother Priscilla are two of the most lovely people I think I’ll ever meet. They took me in as a child when every other family found me to be too troubled. They nurtured the best parts of me and encouraged my passions, treating me as if I was their own child. They helped me through my panic attacks, hugged me when I wanted to be hugged and didn't touch me when I didn't want to be touched. It's difficult being away from them so much, I send letters, but that’s not the same.
The second I walk into the house I’m hit with the sweet and sour smell of lemon taplas, my favorite desert on the face of the globe. I stomp the snow from my boots before placing them on the rack before hanging my cloak and continuing down the hallway. The hallway is decorated with family portraits and even a couple photographs. There are paintings from my parents wedding and one of the only photographs is the one of my name change day. In the photo I hug Rey’s waist tightly and Priscilla has one arm around Rey and another on my shoulder, while the other two hold my certificate. That day was one of the best days of my life, it’s when people started trulley recognizing me as a Samir-Covilch.
I emerge in the dining room which is only lightly decorated with a Polvoshki themed table cloth. As most families do they are most likely putting up the decorations after Polvoshki eve dinner and prayers. I'm glad to be able to help them for the first time in years.
I turn into the kitchen where I find my heart-father whisking the vanilla cream for the top of the taplas. He looks up and immediately bursts into a wide smile which immediately makes me grin. He places the bowl on the counter walking over to me bringing me into a hug.
“Jora ninita,” He says as I squeeze him tightly.
“Jora leleto, how are you?” I ask as he lets me go clapping his hands together.
“Much better now that you’re home,” He smiles and I roll my eyes despite the fact I feel the same. “How are you doing?”He asks, picking the bowl up and mixing again.
“I’m alright, just got done with the council,” I sigh, taking a seat in the chair my mother keeps in the kitchen. “Can you hand me some shrivel?” I ask, rubbing my knees which feel like they have giant needles going through them.
I was diagnosed with chronic Rotting at a pretty young age, mainly because Rey was able to catch it. For the longest time I had dealt with minor knee pain, but as I got older it got far worse, buckling, dislocating and even more pain. The minoclie who were holding me had no clue nor any care about what was happening, to them it was just another reason I couldn't run. Rey on the other had quickly noticed the symptoms of Rotting, him having it in his eyes, he noticed the purple pulsing the second it started appearing and quickly got me to the doctor. Rotting isn’t curable yet but it is treatable so for now I take shrivel to help with the pain as well as stopping the rot from making my knees lock up. Rey takes it too so that he’s able to move his eyes as well as see relatively clearly, though he’s still unable to see things to the sides of him without turning.
“Of course, now tell me how the meeting went.”
I inform Rey of everything that took place during the meeting, while helping him clean up the kitchen. If Rey is one thing it’s a fantastic listener, he listens to my whole story before adding in his own comments at the end, which I expect is a far calmer reaction than Priscilla will have. Rey is very much the calm to Priscialla’s storm, with Priscilla being the sword to his shield. In my mind they’re the perfect pair, balancing each other out as well as lifting each other up. I hope I’ll find somebody like that someday.
I assist Rey in preparing dinner, louklok, it’s a spicy dish made with chicken, eggs, onions, peppers all served with a side of rice. I keep snagging sweet peppers, Rey doesn’t stop me, he just shakes his head and smiles. It reminds me of the first time I joined him in the kitchen to make dinner.
When I lived with the minoclie cult the kitchens were off limits to me. Once when I went in and they found me I had gotten locked in my room with no food for three days straight, maybe longer. When I got to Rey and Pricsilla’s house Rey told me I was welcome in the kitchen anytime. It took nearly eight months before I even dared step foot in the kitchen, when I did it was late and Rey was finishing up on our dinner that night. I came and sat on the floor staring up at him.
“Hey sunshine, what are you doing on the floor?” He asked, I had always sat on the floor, I wasn’t allowed a chair.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, preparing to crawl away.
“No you’re fine there if you want to stay,” He smiled, I didn't, my eyes just watered. “Say, would you like to come add the peas in?” He asked, seeing my terrified eyes.
“What if I mess up?” I whispered, shoving myself harder against the wall.
“Then we’ll find a way to fix it, together,” he offered out a hand, I didn’t take it but I did stand up.
After that I helped him pour the pea’s in. I nearly cried when one fell to the counter, but he just smiled and tossed it into the pot. He let me nibble on one of the apple slices that went unused and even let me dip in some cinnamon. That night I hugged him for the first time, squeezed him tight before running off to get Priscilla for dinner. For a moment I thought he might be mad, but when I came back with Priscilla he was grinning. I told him sorry but he told me he was honored. I think that might have been the night Rey became my dad.
Now I stand liking a chili flake from my finger as I hum along to the tune me and Rey made up years ago. Sometimes in the kitchen I’d still get freaked out randomly, so we made up a song to calm my nerves. Now I hum it pretty much anytime I’m cooking, out of habit.
Stew, snap and pop
Go on and mince or chop
Fruit spices and veggies too
Stew snap chop and pop add it all to the pot
It’s silly and exactly what an eight year old would come up with to calm her kitchen nerves.
As I’m pulling down plates I hear the front door slam open, harsh winter winds screaming outside. I hear the clicking of Priscilla’s good boots and a smile curls at my lips. I look to Rey who nods for me to go. I creep down the hallway, more quiet than a snake. I pop into the entrance hall to find my heart-mother hanging her deep red and brown owl’s cloak.
“Jora kelita!” Priscilla jumps nearly a foot in the air before whipping around and staring at me.
“Lani!” Priscilla is the only person in the world allowed to call me Lani, she’s also one of the only people I know who is still taller than me and can wrap me in a hug.
She brings me into her arms, kissing the top of my head and then my cheek. Priscilla always smells of ink and paper whenever she gets home from work, she is a scientist. I suppose you are needing to write quite a bit. Her four arms wrap around me like an extra hug and I squeeze her tighter. When she lets me go her eyes quickly drift to my new vavan, or tattoo. It’s an owl sitting on a branch while a hummingbird buzzes around it, flying in and out of the branches while the owl's eye moves back and forth following it, with a small rune for comfort over top of it. It’s my second tattoo for my parents.
“I like the hummingbird, it was done well,” she says, tucking one of her newly done braids behind her ear.
“You just like it because it represents papa,” I smile as she shrugs moving her work bag to another arm.
“Tell leleto that I’ll be in the kitchen in a few, I’m going to change out of my work clothes first,” She pat’s my shoulders before walking off up the stairs leaving me to go back to the kitchen.
As I’m lighting the Polvoshki candles, Rey set’s the table. Priscilla joins us shortly afterwards now in pants and a house shirt with a flower embroidered on it. While taking my seat I debated on how to approach telling my mother how the meeting went, and telling her that it went on in the first place. Priscilla talks a bit about her day, uneventful, thankfully it wasn’t bad.
Eventually I just tell her flat out and, as expected, she’s furious. She’s not furious with me of course, but with the council. Me and her promptly have a nearly half hour long conversation about the constant failure of the council. Sometimes I forget how much of my personality conesides with Priscilla’s, I relate to her quite a lot too. Both of us were children put into the orphanage system, she was raised in what could barely be considered a home, which was why she wanted to give me a better life. I could see myself becoming like Priscilla and Rey, adopting older children who rarely get the chance they deserve.
By the end of dinner there was enough hate for the council in the air to fuel a whole revolution. Thankfully though the rage dies down and Rey trots off to get the decoration box which I begin helping Priscilla clear a couple more things off the mantle. The vore vada is already set up with portraits of family members and friends alongside candles, flowers and a long strand of wooden beads similar to the ones around my neck. My fingers go to them, Priscilla notices and smiles. She’s the one who got them for me when I was ten, as the first birthday gift I ever got.
“I’ve heard they’re making beads for you now?” She asks as Rey appears with the box.
“They have, though I haven’t given a concrete symbol yet so they’re just making place holders,” I explain trotting over to the box overflowing with holiday decor.
“Well aren’t you impressive ninita,” Rey chuckles, putting a hand on my head.
“I think my doctorate is far more impressive than the circumstances of my birth,” I smile as Rey flashed a grin, he always flashes that grin when I mention my schooling, I love making him proud.
“That my ninita,” He grings handing me a stack of painted lanterns.
“Thank you papa,”
Rey and Priscilla have always decorated more than anyone I’ve ever known, they set u[p strands of wooden beads across doorways, hang beautiful lines of intricate cut paper with scenes depicting the afterlife and myths, they set out little decorative porcelain houses and animals, set table clothes across all the tables, set out a special set of holiday candles smelling of hyacinths and lavender and I put out the lanterns all painted by either me or Priscilla, depicting are family birds as well as the myth behind the family crests. Food will be out along the hallway buffet table tomorrow, which is usually cluttered with knick knacks and old journals but now houses are family birds and a lovely deep purple tablecloth.
“I always loved those lanterns,” Priscilla notes, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You set them in order?”
“Of course, though maybe I forgot the story!” I smirk as she rolls her eyes.
I’ve always loved listening to Priscilla tell stories, the tale of the family crest was always my favorite though. When I was really little she even got me a tiny little crow finger puppet that’s most likely still somewhere in my bedroom.
“Sit,” She chuckles, nodding to the couch.
“May I join?” Rey chuckles, taking a seat in the chair next to the fire.
“Hm… perhaps, but only if you’re good,” She smiles as I curl up on the couch just like when I was a kid, just like I do every Polvoshki.
“Yeah leleto you gotta be nice,” I laugh as he chuckles, leaning back in his chair.
“Alright, the tale of the young crow-,” Priscilla starts, making us both close our mouths “-it all began one day in a graveyard, a young crow was finishing his work, when while he’s digging he hit something hard. He thinks it must be a stray casket at first, but that’s when he notices the shimmering green color of it. He bends down to gingerly pick up the shining blue and green dragon feather!” Priscilla does her usual illusion of a large green and blue hummingbird dragon feather in the center of the room, nearly the size of my arm.
“The crow boy rushed it to the town desperate to share what he found! But because he was a crow no one believed him, except for an old man, a kindly vulture. He told the boy it was a call from an ancient dragon, that he must answer it, to follow his heart and to listen to the call of the dragon! The boy insisted the man come with him, so he did. They trek for months listening to the call of the dragon, people didn’t believe they would find it, but they listened to their hearts and continued on despite people. Finally they came to the most glorious of forests, trees taller than mountains hanging with fruits of the most delicious variety! But they knew not to eat the fruit until after they reached the middle of the grove-,” Priscilla pauses as if to be we’re still listening, we are, “-despite the delicious smells and the temptation they get to the center of the grove, where they find the largest hummingbird dragon ever seen to mortal kind! The dragon recognized their honor, dedication, and perseverance, so the dragon bestowed upon them the forest! But instead of feeding into greed they used the fruits gold they found in the grove to help the poor people, bringing prosperity to their families and their family to come.” Priscilla finishes with all of her illusions of trees, gold and fruit disappearing.
“Now I really want fruit,” I chuckle as Priscilla lets out a short laugh.
“That can be arranged, after that though I think I’m going to retire for the night,” Rey yawns heading off to the kitchen.
He returns with a sliced pomegranate, which has to be one of the hardest fruits to eat, but also one of the best fruits on the planet. Me and Priscilla devour nearly the entire thing while Rey takes a couple seeds before heading off to bed. I’m reminded of late nights after my orchestra competitions and basket derby tournaments. At the same time I’m also reminded of the trembling fear I felt for the first few years here, thinking that this wouldn’t last. Yet here I am, over ten years and the scared kids I once was is just a memory.
“You alright Lani?” Priscilla ask rubbing my back.
“Ti kelita,” I mumble, closing my eyes. “Love you,”
Not often am I one for traveling to countries with so little planning, yet here I stand in one of my guards' family homes. I suppose it is my fault for complaining to my parents about a lack of holiday celebration. Now I’m in a town where I haven’t a clue what holidays are even celebrated. Themis says we’re here to celebrate Polvoshki, which I only have the most limited information about.
“Kosta, do you need any help?” Themis pokes his head in as I try to tie my corset.
“Indeed I do, would you mind?” I ask dropping my hands to my side as he walks over, pulling it tighter at my command before tying it off. “Thank you Themis, much appreciated,” I say, picking up the skirt of my dress. “I must ask how you’re any good at tying corsets?”
“Kosta I’m studying to become a swan might you remember, I am simply doing my time at the palace now so I may continue in to the performance arts,” Often people who come from lower classes can not become swan unless they serve three years in the military of one of the main five countries, due to swans being more of a frivolous career. I also tend to forget Themis will be leaving by mid summer.
“Right, and I expect you’ll invite me to your shows, correct?” I chuckle picking out a tube of lipstick.
“Mhm, though I rather doubt I’ll get anything big until at least the year after I start,” He says strutting over to the guest bed where he seats himself, admiring the ring I bought him for the holidays. “I have a couple different dance companies lined up actually, I think I’ll work for the Masons Company of Ballet though,”
“Quite the hot commodity you are, hm?” I chuckle pinning my hair up with a crystal peacock clip.
“Suppose you could say so. What can I say, I know how to dance,” He smirks, pushing pale blonde hair from his equally pale blue eyes.
“I wish I could say the same for myself,” I chuckle, turning to him, smoothing out my dress. “Thoughts?”
“You look lovely, your highness,” He smiles and I nod, sliding on my family ring before starting out the door and nearly forgetting my new shoes.
“Ugh I hate wearing dress shoes,” I grumble sliding them on.
“That is one part of being a girl I don’t think I will ever miss,” Themis chuckles, clicking his tongue. “The shoes were lovely but oh did they ever feel like torture devices,” He laughs as we trot down the stairs.
“Stars of Heaven do I know it,”
I’m staying with Themis and his parents, Themis is used to seeing me, they are not. While I am not their princess they still treat me as if I was such, in reality I am a glorified tourist in this town. It’s a really lovely place, with curving stone buildings, winter flora like I've never seen and music around every corner. I suppose the capital of a country is to be the most lovely.
Themis offers my coat, the snow has already begun to powder the ground and the chill in the air is harsh. Themis wraps in a warm coat the colors of a falcon, sharp grays with dark blue lining. His parents both dress in the colors of nightingales, soft brown with a red brown lining. I’m dressed in a coat of royal blue and green with a gold lining, the colors of peacocks. The people on the streets stare, none bow but they put up four fingers for respect.
The streets are crowded with a mixture of nightingales, sparrows, owls and plenty of hummingbirds. Most have coats of their classes color but wear shades of purple and gold for the holidays. The streets are decorated with ribbons and food vendors, a woman dances with a group of swans who play things ranging from a tambourine to a string instrument I don’t recognize. People rush around with boxes and crates, pulling children along, stopping to watch the dancer and stop for food.
After walking for what feels like an hour we arrive at a long snow covered gravel road. A man in a wagon tips his hat at us as we trek up the hill past house after house. The front gardens are large, most with either a garden of winter flora or a stone garden in one house's case. The trees hand heavy with icicles and snow, the ground become a bit difficult to walk through and I nearly trip over my own foot. But as we’re walking suddenly I get this weird sense, like the air has suddenly gotten thicker, like something has been added.
I’m taken aback by this, Themis notices and sighs. His parents notice as well and he nods and they continue walking while he stops. He takes my arm looking me in the eye, promptly making my ears twitch.
“There's something you need to tell me,” I whisper, and he nods slowly.
“You’ve noticed the air,” He notes, I nod. “Well it’s because of a very old friend of mine. I do warn she is a bit intense, in the physical sense. She’s very sweet, but she is… a lot, if you need a break just let me know and I’ll take you for a walk,” His face is calm but his tone is serious.
“Who in the lands is your friend?” I mutter as he smiles slightly.
“You’ll see,” He lets out a short laugh. “And don’t worry the air won’t hurt you, in fact it does the opposite, but it can be a bit uncomfortable at first,”
By the time we’re at the house I swear there is a slightly gold tint to everything. Themis promises it’s normal but with each step my nerves grow. Who am I meeting? How can they do this? What are they?
The interior of the house is lit with paper lanterns, candles and tiny floating balls of light. Colorful purple and gold papers with intricate designs hang from one end of the room to the other. The long hall table is set with food and drinks. Three small birds sit in the middle of the hall table, a porcelain owl, hummingbird and a brightly colored bird I don’t recognize.
“The family birds, right?” I ask, gesturing to the porcelain birds.
“Mhm, Mrs.Covilch is the owl, Mr. Samir is the humming bird and Zulan is the parrot,” Zulan, I recognize that name, but from where?
The party is rather small, three families not including Themis’s. The hosts are nowhere to be seen though, Themis says it’s because the party doesn’t actually begin till the clock strikes twelve. He’s right, the second the clock strikes twelve people begin pulling boxes from their bags and placing them around the fireplace. Themis produces my gift from his satchel setting the three boxes on top of each other. As I’m going to examine the food table I hear the tinkling of bells.
“The hosts are here,” Themis smirks as I turn to the staircase to see the hosts.
My jaw nearly drops the second I see them. Before now I’ve never seen a family so ethereally beautiful. Each one carries themself like a bolder couldn’t knock them down and each has a smile so genuinely sweet that I think I might get a headache.
The man, I assume to be Mr. Samir, is a short man with paper white skin, dark spiky hair with a bright purple feather tied into it. His eyes are thin and dark, and the parts of his arms I can see are completely inked. The older of the women, most likely Mrs. Covilch is a tall woman, her dark hair is done into thick box braids, gold bands circling them. Her eyes are wide and the same color as the sky. Thin white inking goes around her wrists and bicep.
Lastly there's the second woman, I know is Zulan, I know it is Zulan because the second I see her I realize she’s the goddess Zulan. Straight golden horns stick out of white coils of hair hang around her face, some pushed into desperate braids held in place with gold bands, but most are free and hang just above her mid back. Her dark ebony skin is the same as her mothers, and each bare inch is covered in pale white inking of runes, flowers, and things I don’t quite recognize. Bands of gold sit at her wrists and rings lay on her fingers. Her arms are thick and strong, she looks as if she could defeat any of my soldiers with ease.
The whole family is dressed in bright shades of gold and purple. Zulan wears bells at her ankles, now I know where the noise was coming from. My breath is caught in my throat and I can’t peel my eyes from the woman in front of me.
“You never mentioned your friend is a goddess!" I exclaim in a whisper as Themis chuckles.
"Sorry I just-"
"Themis!" Before I know it Zulan has tackled Themis in a tight embrace. "It's so good to see you! How I've missed seeing your face!" She exclaims kissing his cheek as Themis hugs her close.
"I can say the same for you! How did you know my new name?" He asks as she holds both of his hands in hers.
"You think the winds would keep such a thing from me, lotulk! A wonderful name might I add," She smiles softly, a smile you'd never expect to see on a god.
"Tosha Zulan," Themis smiled before turning to me.
"Hello Kostantina, how are you doing this afternoon?" Zulan asks letting go of Themis's hands, I swallow my beating fear and smile.
"Quite well My Lady," I go into a deep bow, then suddenly I hear a sweet bubbling laugh that makes me feel oddly warm.
"No need for such formalities, a friend of Themis is a friend of mine. I am also not one for bowing, I find it makes me feel far to how you say it… distant,” She winks making my cheeks grow warm as coals. “Now Themis I’ve heard you’re a palace guard, tell me you still plan on being a swan,”
Themis ends up enthralled in conversation with Zulan and I am left to fend for myself. At royal balls and banquets I find talking easy. I know the people, I know they know me and I know what they’re there to talk about. Here though, I’m completely out of my element, people flip between languages and their conversations are about books, work and travels. I haven’t much time to read, my work is private and this is the first time in years I’ve traveled outside of Belegonia.
The air is still thick with other worldly magic and I find it rather suffocating, I want to go for a walk, but the snow has gotten deep and I don’t wish to get lost. So I stand at the window holding a cup of tea that I can’t identify. Everything here is alien to me, it shouldn’t be the case, my heart-father is from Tweleria. Yet I stand looking at the traditions and I don’t feel any connection to any of it. I want to, but I don’t even understand what this holiday is about or for.
“It’s for celebrating our ancestors,” I let out a scream, promptly disturbing most people at the party.
“My goodness you gave me a fright!” I turn around to see a man that looks to be completely made of shadows. “My apologies for screaming,” I let out a nervous laugh as he shakes his head.
“No no, I’m quite sorry! I tend to forget I have no footsteps for people to hear, so I have a tendency to just pop up,” He chuckles, his voice is deep and rumbling like waves against large rocks. “But the holiday is for the spirits of are ancestors, and the gods of course, they hate being left out of things don’t they,” He laughs, the white glowing like I assume are his eyes rolling.
“Hey!” Zulan laughs from the couch, shaking her fist. “I’ll take your voice Vin!”
“I’d like to see you try!” He cackles, taking off his top hat and running fingers through the darkness that is his hair. “Anyway, my name is Vincent, it’s a great pleasure to meet you,” He bows, tipping his hat, I respond with a curtsy.
“I am Kostantina, but you may call me Kosta,” I smile, smoothing out my dress. “But how did you know what I was thinking, can you read minds?”
“Indeed I can!” He chirps, much to my surprise. “Astute observation, how about you?” He asks and I give him an odd look.
“Oh, no I haven’t any magic I’m afraid,” People always assume my family descends from magic, with the twisting ivory horns on the sides of my head and the white and gold scales on my arms it’s easy to think so.
It’s always been a sort of insecurity for me, while my house staff and guards could bend metal or get people to things with their voice alone I was left with no such power. My mother is a powerful woman herself, the Gosha chose their leading families based off magical prowis, her family has been in power for centuries and I am the first of the family to be utterly powerless. My mother insists the gods bestowed beauty upon me as my power, but it’s really only in recent years I’ve grown into my face. I suppose it doesn’t matter, my cousin Tempest is the one who will take the throne of Goshaban, him being nearly seven years my elder and his brother Horvika being only two years younger.
“But reading minds is quite the interesting thing, don't you think?” I vere the conversation away from me.
“It’s not all it’s cut out to be, far too loud if you ask me!”
Vincent is quite the conversationalist, quite bright and bubbly for someone made of shadows. He convinces me to try some of the unknown finger food and I’m quite glad he did for it’s delicious. Apparently Mr.Samir made the food, and I can’t help but thank him. The whole party starts to feel more comfortable after a little while, I enjoy listening to old Ms.Xing talk about her travels to Jevhero and she likes hearing about my interest in painting and leather burning, while Yevon is willing to talk to me about architecture.
When we do prayers I’m surprised to find the prayers are quite similar to the ones my mother taught me as a young girl, I suppose it makes sense seeing Goshaban is only a hop away from Tweleria. I don’t have any ancestors I am particularly trying to reach out to, but I do make a prayer to the god of sea so that my travel back to Belegonia is safe. I watch as people leave offerings at a metal bowl on the mantle, which are mainly small pieces of colored wax. I don’t have anything like that so I just put one of my pearl hair pins in. After everyone has given something Zulan steps forward taking the bowl in her hands before disappearing into thin air. She reappears just moments later with the bowl empty. She says something, but I don’t understand the language, it must be good though because everyone cheers.
After that the real dinner begins. The dining room table is large, but extra chairs are still needed. I’m seated in between Themis and Vincent, across from me sits Zulan who whispers to Mrs. Covilch who I found out isn’t her blood-mother, and Mr. Samir isn’t her blood-father. I never would have expected a goddess of all people to be subjected to the orphanage system, it makes me wonder how in the stars that happened. I know that would be rude though, so I seal my mouth.
The room is warm with the steam of food and warm beverages. People chatter and pass around bowls, the food is forign to me and so I just let Themis guide my choices. People switch between spoons, forks and these two little sticks they call dosloks. They are far harder to use than they look. I enjoy the sweet and spicy apple-pepper juice I was given and the food is magnificent, being nothing like anything I’m ever served. People keep asking me how I’m doing and how I like things, I respond every time with the utmost excitement.
As dinner continues, conversation devolves into politics and Zulan’s meeting with the council. I rather doubt that I’ve ever met a woman so very sure of her place in the world than Zulan. She talks of the high council like they’re no more than annoying bug bite rather than a country ruling council that cast her out. It is rather amusing watching her, a goddess, curse and comment on one of the counselors terrible hairstyles. I had always though all gods were nothing but the pinnacle of dignity, but as I watch her joke with her mother about her hair being unmanageable.
“You’re staring,” Themis whispers. “And your hair is about to get in your bowl,” I snatch my hair away from the brim of the bowl before it can dip into the dark red sauce remnants in the bowl.
“I am not staring!” I hiss in a near silent whisper.
“Mhm and my eyes are brown,” He chuckles as I flick his shoulder.
“So Kosta I must ask what you’re doing all the way out here in Tweleria,” Zulan asks me, turning her one dark one light eye to me.
“Just a short break from the court, is all,” I explain starkly, not wishing to say it was my parents doing.
“Need a break from all the luxury,” Vincent snickers making my cheeks light on fire.
“Don’t be rude Vincent, royalty has quite a lot of responsibility,” Violet, Vincent’s sister, narrows her eyes as he rolls his own. “I myself am Prince Galvin’s palvarshi,” I had never seen prince Galvins palvarshi and I had always wondered why, I guess I understand now.
Themis is my current palvarshi, also known as a personal knight, and I suppose I’m just now realizing that I’m going to find someone new to fill his position. I wouldn't by any means attempt to keep him at the palace or in any falcon position, I know of his distaste for the rather gritty job. It wouldn’t be less than cruel to demand him to remain where he doesn’t wish. Though a small twist does sit in my stomach at the thought of being lonely once more.
After dinner we gather in the sitting room and gifts begin being exchanged. No one had expected my appearance so none had gotten one for me, people apologize but shake my head and smile. I watch as the younger children open up toys while adults unwrap books and clothes. The Samir-Covilch family are the only ones I bought gifts for due to Themis not knowing what other families were coming. Mrs. Covilch thanks me for the bright gold amulet I gave her and Mr. Samir thanks me for the painted porcelain bowls I brought from Belegonia. Zulan opens my gift to her last. I would have gotten her something far more special had Themis told me it was a goddess who surely is given gifts on the daily. She opens the box and I wring my fingers squeezing them until her lips curve into a smile.
“This is lovely Kosta,” She pulls the leatherbound notebook out of the box alongside the ink set.
“Themis mentioned you were quite one for notes, I’m sorry if it’s not quite as formal of a gift as you’re used to,” I bite my cheek but her smile just grows and my fingers loosen.
“Lotulk I love it! I’ve been in need of a new book for note keeping, and the cover is absolutely stunning,” She chirps, running her fingers over the intricate sun and moon design I had taken hours to burn into the smooth leather cover.
“Oh thank you, I did it myself,” I blush deeply as her eyebrows raise.
“Talented and beautiful, you truly are an impressive woman,” She winks and I put my head in my hands as Themis snickers and a couple of the younger children ooh at me.
After gift opening most of the families leave, mostly due to their children growing tired and grumpy. Violet and Vincent, Themis’s family, along with Yevon remain afterwards. I maneuver to the ground by the fire trying to warm my cold arms and hands. Zulan sit’s telling tales of her travels as Violet trots off to prepare tea for everyone. I’m completely enamored by Zulans recounting of her travels to the ancient temple of Zomurine, the curses she disabled and the creatures she encountered. Each of her words is delicately picked and she dilievers them with an inflection that makes people laugh and shiver when the time is right.
“Quite the enthralling life you live, hm?” Violet chuckles handing around the cups of tea.
“I suppose you could say that, though I’m just telling the exciting bits. If you wanted I could tell you about all the times I’ve been shoulders deep in paperwork,” She laughs, though I think I could listen to her talk about that and not be bored for a second.
The night grows later and one by one people depart until it’s just me and Themis left. Mr. Samir and Mrs. Covilch retired for the night, so it’s only me, Themis and Zulan. Themis was right, Zulan’s magic is far more comfortable now, the gold shimmer no longer hangs in the air and I feel as if I can breathe normally. While the physical impact of her presence is gone, I’m not sure I truly wrap my mind around sitting so close to a goddess. She sits with her head on Themis’s shoulder as I sit on the couch across from them.
Conversation is sparse, I think the two are just happy to be near each other. It’s clear they have a connection I can’t quite understand. I almost expect them to lean into each other and kiss, but I know better than that, Themis has told me before he has no interest in women. When I look at them I long for a relationship such as theirs. Someone who will hold me close and just enjoy eachothers company. Themis is good company, but I know his soulmate is Zulan, friends that all through tonight I have seen communicate with little more than the lifting of eyebrows. I rather doubt anything like their friendship will bloom for me, for as he is said it’s built on nothing but truth and understanding.
As I grow older and ingrain myself more and more into the court, I will wash away bits of my personality until all my rough edges are gone. I can not build a relationship such as theirs with a personality that does not exist. Friends in the court are a rare thing, sure you get close to nobles and such, but it’s never friendship. Romantic relationships will be no better. One day I will marry a man to unite kingdoms or houses, I will not love this man romantically, I know that for certain. I will most likely have a valta just as my father has my heart-father Malcoy and my mother has her valta my other heart-father Zoumis. I’m quite close to my mother, my heart-father Malcoy and my blood-father, I am not so close with Zoumis due to the fact neither of us speak the other's language.
As I sit on the couch, eyes drooping shut, Themis whispers something to Zulan who nods as he rises from his seat. She watches me expectantly, as if I am suddenly going to move, or speak. I don’t, instead I watch her look me up and down. I want to straighten up, but I am far too tired and at ease.
“You have a lovely voice,” I murmur as she cracks a small smile.
“Thank you, you yourself are quite talented as well,” She hums her one dark one light fixated on me. “Themis tells me you dance too, is that true?” She asks, laying down and closing her eyes.
“It is, most of them are ballroom dances. Nothing special,” She knows more dances than I, I’m sure of it.
“I wish I knew dances so formal, I only know street dances which are perfect for festivals, not so much for royal banquets,” She chuckles, a low sound like the chimes of large bells.
“I’m sure you look lovely, it would be hard for you not to,” The words escape before I can stop them.
I’m not sure what she says next because my eyes shut and I drift off into sleep. No dreams come to me, it’s just a peaceful silence and darkness. When I wake I’m laying on the guest bed at Themis’s house. I roll over wincing when I hit the head board. I peel my eyes open and the sunlight quickly floods my eyes. I grumble and sit up, realizing my party dress is wrapped around my legs and torso.
I shimmie my way out of the dress, my corset had been loosened thankfully. My hair pins lay on the dresser and my necklace lays right by them. I run my fingers through my hair which is tangled beyond belief. Most days I would have a bath drawn, but the guest bedroom does not have a bathroom and I don’t wish to inconvenience the other members of the house. I pick out a simplistic white, gold and green dress that reaches my ankles, it does not scream my status but it also shows I am to be somewhat respected. I slide a brush through my hair before pinning it up into a braided bun. I wipe my face clear of powers and my eyes of the blue tint, today is not a day for makeup.
I walk out of my room promptly bumping into Themis who seemingly has just woken up as well. He yawns and says a quick good morning before going off to change into day clothes. I haven’t a clue what people spend time doing in this town so I decide to sit in the living room with my book on ancient temples. Mr. Teveral is already off to work, and Mrs.Teveral is putting on a soft red headscarf before bidding me goodbye. Somedays I wonder what it’s like to work a job in the town, getting up early and heading off to the bank or news publisher in Mrs.Teveral’s case.
As I’m pondering there’s a soft knock at the door, and my heart jumps for a moment.
“Themis, somebody is at the door!” I shout up the stairs.
“It’s likely just Zulan or the post, you can answer it!” He shouts back.
I make my way to the door, looking through the peephole and seeing it is indeed Zulan. I peel open the door and my heart pounds as she flashes a bright smile. Her coils of white hair are pushed back by a deep gold bandana which matches her gold and red dress partially covered by a thick white coat. She clutches a covered baskets and offers it to me.
“Mrs.Teveral asked I bring her some tompas,” She smiles, and I’m sure my cheeks are red as the tompas.
“Oh thank you! You just missed her though,” I say shifting from foot to foot as she gives a curt nod. “You can come in if you’d like, sorry I didn’t mean to leave you in the cold!” I let out a sharp laugh trembling with nerves.
“I appreciate it,” She says as I side step allowing her in.
I’m about to point her to the kitchen when she walks past me. I forgot that she probably grew up walking in and out of the house. It’s strange to see her weaving in and out as if she’s just your typical village girl, returning to her old friend's house. In her mind I suppose she is, but it’s still rather amusing to me watching it happen.
When she returns from the kitchen she suddenly has a cane in one hand. I glance down at her legs which are covered by her dress. As she walks over to take a seat in the chair next to the couch I hear a light clicking. She sinks into the chair and clearly sees me staring because she lifts her skirt to reveal two adjustable knee braces, they're a mix of cloth and metal with little notches on the inner sides.
“Chronic rot, had it since I was fifteen,” She says promptly dropping her skirt.
“Oh… I wasn’t aware gods could get sick,” I mutter, feeling bad for making her feel as if she needs to explain herself.
“Just because we are gods it does not spare us from ailments of our mortal breathran,” She explains leaning back in the chair. “We are nearly the same as mortals, all the universe did was give us a bit more to work with,” She explains with a shrug as Themis appears in the doorway.
“Flaunting are we now?” Themis laughs as Zulan picks up a pillow chucking it at him.
“Eat rocks!” She laughs as he attempts to catch the pillow and fails. “Those falcon lessons haven’t taught you anything have they!” She grins as he sticks his tongue out at her making me giggle.
“Don't talk to me like that in my house!” He smirks, throwing the pillow back to her.
“It’s your parents,” She smirks, setting the pillow down and nodding at the door. “Now come on we’re going shopping before the festival tonight, I have no intention in showing up in anything less than astounding,” She smiles and I watch one tug at Themies lips. “You to Kosta, you would look lovely in something that isn’t blue or green,”
With that I’m being bustled out the door into the town which has begun hanging ribbons and banners along with a million other things being set up that I don’t even know the names of. I have an odd feeling that today is going to be even more… interesting than yesterday, and it’s only eleven o’clock.
Questions for reviews:
(1). What are some assumptions you've made about the characters
(2). What did you think of the writing style (it's something a little new to me)
(3). Would you read more if I upload more chapters (be honest, because if so I will!)