By Tyler Golec,
Her wet night black hair clung to her thin white silk gown. The gown was nearly translucent with salt water, her skin was sun kissed and tan. Sitting down in front of her mirror that hung on the Ivory walls above her dresser, she gracefully brushed the lose strands of her hair away from her face. Shen then searched for the best gems to adorn herself with. Looking into the mirror she smiled at the face the stared back revealing her teeth which where whiter than the pearls she’d adorned herself with. Her complexion was of dark sand and coffee-cream. Her people spent much of their lives under the sun and she was no different. Her eyes were her mothers in shape and fathers in color. Her eye lashes were thick and dark. They framed her almond shaped eyes. Her cheek bones were far less dominating than her mother’s though still high and similar in shape. She was meant to be beautiful and was. It didn’t weaken the critical eyes upon her – always.
Turning away from the mirror she shifted through one of her many jewelry boxes and pulled out her favorite piece. It was a necklace. Its chain was encrusted with small diamonds linked together by a white gold chain ending in a palm sized emerald that emulated her eyes perfectly. The mid-day sun coming through the windows and into the emerald forced it to give off a hauntingly beautiful glow. Gently she put it on then let the wet gown fall off her well-muscled shoulders. The emerald settled just above the crevice between her breasts.
Staring back at her in the mirror was a woman whose hand was sought after throughout Shimmering Islands and even on the main land. She’d heard that her name was whispered in the courts of both Caspia and Swu’nar. Honestly she was surprised herself that her father hadn’t tried to force her hand. At eighteen, most girls her age were at least betrothed if not married. That was the custom in the high court of the Shimmering Islands. Here a high born man was expected to have several wives. Her father himself had five wives as was custom: one from each of the civilized Islands.
Her father knew her far too well, as she knew him. She knew why he wasn’t rushing her. She wasn’t all too different from him. He knew her temperament, he knew her mind. He had plenty of daughters and sons. He was in no rush with her.
He, quitter than others, did not totally approve of her athletic aspirations. She would however not be swayed from those. She had inherited the height that ran in her father’s line. Standing at almost six feet tall she was of a height if not taller than most men, and was strong, as she’d been her entire life. She had studied all the customary martial arts and weapons of the Islands. Her favorite was the rapier which was popular on board most boats due to its swiftness and ease to carry. Her second favorite was the spear. With that weapon she could make up for any physical disadvantage she may have to a man, which were few now. Even to the best men she sparred.
She had just returned from one of her lessons and was dressing for a banquet planned for that afternoon. Her father insisted that the clans of the five islands gather once a season to dine together. Before the merriment they’d gather to discuss politics, trade, and other topics of boring conversation. It wasn’t that she was ignorant, it was just that most of the quarrels and trade issues were so minor and pointless that they weren’t worth much attention. She was also seventeenth in line to the throne. Eldrion, her half-brother, could bore himself in that room. She preferred to sweat.
She didn’t have the proper body for her class, as she’d hear other woman. She should be skinnier. She should stay out of sunlight. Her arms and legs should have fewer muscles. She thought they should fuck themselves, but she would never say that out loud. She adjusted the final tie on her dress. It was ivory white, the color worn by virgins. It was tight. Meant to show her off but maintain modesty. It was the custom.
It was a pretty dress, so light that the slightest breeze ruffled the skirt against her skin. Her tailor was good at his craft. She would often watch him work. Her tailor could make a great many things, and for her birthday that year he had given her a set of armor. It was custom fit to her. Traditionally on the Islands very few actually were much more than leather into battle do to the fact that most of the fighting was done at sea, and the risk of drowning was amplified tenfold if you fell off your boat in any type of metal. A captain would wear armor though. A captain’s armor was made of over lapping plates over scale mail. Hers imitated that style. It would be the captain who would hold the ship at all costs.
Xepheirous believed that anyone willing to risk their life to a blade shouldn’t flinch at the sea. She had never actually seen a real battle or nearly drowned, but there was no winning that argument against her. She wore her armor often. It was gelded to match her eyes and was accented by a sea foam green trim. She would wear it during sparing at times when she did not want to be viewed as a woman.
A knock on the door grabbed her attention. It was quickly followed by a voice. “Pheir, are you almost ready?” It was her youngest sister Lora. They shared a mother and were closest.
“Yes, Lora! A moment!” She shouted back.
She slipped into a pair of white slippers then opened the door. There stood Lora in the overly elegant for a ten year old gown of white. Her hair was tied up in white ribbons. Lora was as close to a mirror image to Pheir as possible. The only differences were that her eyes were blue like her mothers and her cheek bones were hinting to be a little more prominent.
“You know mom hates that dress,” Lora said in all plainness.
“If mother had her way everyone woman in the kingdom, even the fat ones, would be strapped into a corset,” Pheir ranted. Lora giggled. They were the only children by their mother who was their father’s second wife.
“Oh, did you know Jenna and Luna are going to be there tonight!?” Lora said. That was new to Pheir. Jenna and Luna were twins and the second offspring by their fathers first wife, who had shown impeccable fertility with a total of seven children. She’d grown slightly overweight in middle age and generally cold, she was not there father’s favorite. Jenna in Luna had been Pheir’s closest playmates when they were children. They were only a year younger than her and had grown into beautiful women in their own rights, as well as avoided their mother’s bitterness. Both had been married six months ago in a joint wedding to the heirs of two of the most prominent Islands. Now genuinely excited for the banquet, Pheir quickened her pace forcing Lora into a run to match her long legs.
Ignoring greetings sent her way, as she entered the dining hall. She scanned it for her half-sisters, and was surprised by what she saw. Both were together in the far corner of the room and both were clearly pregnant. Pheir smiled, the twins had gone through life doing everything at the same time. It seemed that this theme would continue at least for now. Pheir closed the gap between them swiftly, surprising them both with hugs.
“Pheir!” Jenna returned the embrace.
“Pheir, hello,” Luna said.
“You two are huge!” Pheir exclaimed. Both blushed.
“Luna was just copying me again,” Jenna spoke mockingly. They were both beaming and healthy.
“How have you been?” Xepheirous asked both of them.
“Good!” Jenna piped in before her sister. “Living with Sebastian,” her husband, “Is great. He loves sailing. We go all the time.” She smiled “He’s growing very rich too off of the snails that his fishers ketch in the coves. I think he will take another wife soon, Pheir, I could use some more company. I really miss Luna,”
“I don’t know,” Pheir said. “Luna how’s Harson?”
“Oh he’s fine! He spoils me way too much, but he’s not very good at talking. He’s a warrior to his core. Honestly I’ve never seen so many practice battles in my life. He and his father are under constant siege from each other. He’s even tried to teach me how to use a sword.” She smiled. Harson was known for fighting, he did it whenever he could. He was good at it too. Pheir had sparred him, though he had not known who she was. “He married Elizera just last month. she’s such a small thing, very shy. I fear that she’s afraid of him.” They continued to converse as they moved through the party.
They had to separate to find their seats with the start of the meal. With her sisters gone the overly long banquet became very dull. She quickly grew bored with all the things that would entertain her during these events. She hated looking at this nothingness almost as she was annoyed by the constant looks from the older woman. She felt like she was at a market. She ignored the looks from the men. she was meat for sale to most of them.
The sky started to darken outside when her brother rose. Eldrion stood shorter than Pheir but he always dressed well to compensate for it. It seemed to work but she was still fond of mocking his height. He stood silently for several seconds letting all the attention in the room draw to him. He was a good public speaker, his voice never broke, and he never stuttered. That was at least when he spoke to a crowd.
“Tonight we discussed a very important issue which has just arisen, and holds great relevance to all of us.” Pausing he let curiosity spread through the room, Pheir herself felt the draw of her half-brothers voice. “On the behalf of my father I’d like to announce that the Swu’nar kingdom has sent us a messenger asking for our aid in their campaign against the Empire.”
Pheir was surprised that the Islands would care about a mainland dispute. The islands hadn’t gone to war with the main land in almost four generations. The idea was almost against tradition, apparently others in the room thought so as well, Eldrion calmly acknowledged the rise of the tide and calmed it. Pheir was busy thinking of all the possibilities this could bring, to both her and the Shimmering Islands.
Eldrion continued, “In return they offered us a large portion of the eastern coast of the Empire as well as key trade islands. They would also allow our traders to sell without tariffs” Many more heads perked up at this.
A man stood up “And what is it they want from us in this campaign? Our fleets are expansive but serve mostly for protecting trade. We have few galleys for the open sea.”
Eldrion responded, “Our decision to support the Swu’nar is far from final, and I’m sure our military tacticians will be very capable in finding a way to use our fleets efficiently.”