Starting Chains, Chapter two

Sultiana tilted her head back to feel the sun on her bare face. It was the first time she’d felt it without her veil since she’d come of age. She exulted in knowing that she would never wear one again.

She looked down from the sky, and smiled at the scene before her. She stood in the tile covered courtyard in front of the palace of Calistar, her home. Great clay basins overflowing with desert flowers spotted the area. The tiles and fountain were covered in a thick carpet of cherry blossoms, sent as a gift from Queen Shori of Coveline.

Her Father, King Omar, stood in front of the fountain. He was a huge man with a bald head and a neatly trimmed beard. Like all royalty in Calistar, he wore white silk that fluttered in the wind. He was smiling with such pride that it made Sultiana’s heart swell. But her eyes were drawn to Devon.

The man who would be her husband was dressed in noble white silk, with his dagger tucked into his belt. He was conspicuous, being the only white man in attendance, likely in the whole country. The desert wind ruffled his thick curly hair. He was everything she had ever wanted him to be.

Sultiana started down the aisle, the gold coins on the hem of her white silk gown making music as she went. She did her best to keep her eyes on friendly faces. Neva, Omar’s new wife, was standing among Sultiana’s little sisters. She was no more than a few years older than Sultiana. She wore a white veil over her face, with a coiled braid on the top of her head like a crown. Her belly was swollen with child, and she set a hand on it as she beamed at Sultiana.

Aini and Cala, the two younger girls, were trying to stand without bouncing in excitement. Aini, as always, had a crooked veil, and her braid was coming undone. Cala looked just like their mother for who she was named, with an upturned nose and lighter skin than her sisters. Chrissie, the second oldest, was trying to look stern and disinterested behind her veil. As she was too young for such a look, it came off as pouty.

The crowd was full of men and women of Calistar. Some were excited, and tossed flower petals as she walked. Many, too many for her comfort, stood with arms crossed. Many men wouldn’t even look at her, choosing instead to look at the ground or at the people standing in a cluster at the fountain.

She tilted her head high, and smiled for Devon anyway. When she reached him, he held his hands out to her. “You look amazing,” he whispered.

“Truly, you do,” Omar said. He set his hands over theirs, and said, “Brothers and sisters, it brings me the greatest of joy and honor to join together my daughter, Princess Heir Sultiana and Prince Devon of Septa. Theirs was a union decided upon years ago, an arrangement that was to forge a bond of family between Calistar and Septa. This their marriage will do, and so much more.”

He smiled over the crowd, though few smiled back. “They enter their marriage as friends. They have trained and fought together. They share a sacred bond, as the first woman to wield steel magic, and the first man with thread magic. With this foundation of mutual respect and appreciation, and with the gods of both lands smiling upon them, surely they will be ready for whatever the future holds for our great country.”

There was some hissing from the crowd.

“And,” Omar said, talking louder, “Sultiana, as our first ruling queen, will surely bring the smile of the goddesses upon our lands.”

Chrissie made a noise that could have been a snort, but Aini elbowed her in the side.

“Now, before the eyes of our people and the gods themselves, I declare you to be husband and wife.”

Sultiana and Devon leaned towards each other for their first kiss, at least the first one anyone else knew of. Their old training master, Shilom, cheered. He was a shorter man, battle worn, in blue scholars robes. Kadar, Omar’s chief adviser, cheered as well. Kadar’s hair was set in hundreds of small braids, each with a red bead at the end that clacked together as he cheered. Neva, the little girls, and a handful of others joined them. Many others remained silent.

Stella, Princess of Coveline and Devon’s student, hurried to his side as people came to congratulate them. She was a young dragon, blue in color with silver ridges across her long back. As most people in Calistar were not accustomed to seeing dragons on a regular basis, she was given a wide berth.

“Master Devon,” she said, “are you alright?”

“Well, of course,” Devon said, laughing. “I’m wonderful in fact, why?”

“Your hand is twitching,” she said. Her friend Hiro joined them. A full blooded Vondrai dragon, he was longer than Stella with thinner legs. “Can I help you to your rooms?” he asked.

“I’m fine for now, thank you,” Devon said.

“Let’s go into the dining hall,” Omar said.

“Yes,” Sultiana said. She took Devon’s hand, and noticed that his fingers did seem to be twitching. As they led the way into the palace, she said, “Do you need to go to your loom?”

“I think the vision can wait,” he said, “I’m not ready to break up the party.”

A man dressed in the trades tribe yellow came to Devon’s side, and clapped him on the shoulder. He was a young man with a prominent nose. “May I be the first to congratulate you?” he asked, “Surely you have married the loveliest woman in the world. And I should know, because I’ve seen most of it.”

“Thank you,” Devon said, offering his hand to shake. “What’s your name?”

“I am Ferris, the leader of the traders tribe,” he said. “I hope that you will find our tribe more open minded then some others. We are ready to move into the future.”

“Yes, we are,” said a woman who walked next to Ferris. She also wore yellow and like Sultiana, she was unveiled. “Princess, I’m Fidal, and I can’t thank you enough for my new freedom. When my brother and I are abroad, I don’t wear my veil. It’s amazing how itchy it feels when you’re not accustomed to it.”

“So I’ve learned,” Sultiana said, grinning.

“Well,” said an older woman in scholars blue. Sultiana recognized her as Gia, her History and Language instructor from childhood. “If you young girls are going to go about unveiled, I suppose I’ll be alright.” She removed her veil, and bowed to Sultiana. “And I would like to extend a thank you, from the women of my tribe.”

“For what?” Sultiana asked.

“For making history,” Gia said. She turned, and gestured towards the crowd. Women in blue and yellow were removing their veils and letting them flutter away in the wind. Many of them giggled, some looked unsure, some even cheered. Sultiana noticed that the farming women in green, the shepherd women in orange, and what few smith women in red who were present, kept their veils steadily on. She didn’t care a bit. Let them stay behind their veils if they wanted, she would never be bound to one again.

Devon’s hands were shaking. He looked up at the cloud of veils wafting in the breeze, and said, “I’m sorry, but I think I might need to go to our rooms after all, ‘Tiana. Can you help me?”

“Yes,” she said, tearing her eyes away from the sight. She took him by the arm, leaving Omar and Stella to explain.

Sultiana pulled him through the halls of the palace, past the marble pillars that supported the walls covered in carvings and tapestries that showed the history of her people. Their boots clicked over tiles of every color.

Finally, she pulled him into their series of rooms. The sitting room was decorated with a plush red carpet, an ornate table, and a loom with a cushion before it. It was there that she led Devon to. His hands sought the thread and started to fly.

Chrissie and Neva joined them. Neva was holding a plate of food, grape leaves stuffed with lamb and rice. She sat it next to Sultiana.

“People are muttering,” Chrissie said.

“Let them,” Sultiana replied. “The man’s a seer, I don’t know what they expect.”

An image was taking shape on Devon’s loom.

“Having a Septan husband who weaves was hard enough without you letting all of those women take their veils off. Then he’s got to have a little episode,” she muttered.

“Chrissie,” Neva snapped, “you should show more respect for Goddess Malonie. She sent these visions to the prince.”

“I wish She’d send them somewhere else,” Chrissie said.

Devon slumped on his cushion. Sultiana looked at the image. It was a coin, in the process of spinning. On both sides were woman’s faces. One smiled and one wept.

“What is this?” Sultiana asked.

Devon leaned against her, and gratefully took the grape leaf she offered him. “Our nieces,” he said, “I don’t know what it means, but I know it’s them.”

“But they’re not even born yet,” Chrissie said.

Just then, a woven cuff on Devon’s wrist started to glow blue. He smiled, and said, “I can hear you, Lenore. Have they got ten fingers and toes apiece?” After a few minutes, he added. “That’s beautiful. I can’t wait to see them. I’ll talk to you, soon.”

He grinned at Sultiana, and the glow faded from his cuff. “The girls are named Eleanor and Loralie.”

“Big day, all things considered,” Sultiana said.

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