It was a cold winter day. Snow fell heavily in the great city of Broken Peak. High up on the mountain top, in the palace, the queen Loura labored in her bed. Her husband, the prince-reagent Kolvar paced outside the door, flinching as his beloved wife screamed in pain. She had been in labor for nearly a day. He stopped pacing and stared anxiously at the door with bright blue eyes after the screaming stopped, and a tiny high-pitched cry was heard.
After several minutes, the midwife stepped through the door, holding a bundle of brightly colored fabrics, the look on her face was solemn.
“My lord, you have a daughter.” She said, handing the bundled infant over to Kolvar.
“What of my wife?” He asked, nervous, taking the bundle.
“She has passed into the realm of the gods. I’m so sorry, my lord.”
Kolvar held the child close to him and pulled the cloth back, revealing a beautiful girl with pure white hair and skin so pale it was nearly translucent. She stirred and opened her eyes, which matched Kolvar’s. He bit back tears. His beloved Loura gave her life to give him this daughter.
“Your name is Tiria. First born child of the house Ancalime, heir to the throne, and the sentinel of spirit.” He said softly, stroking the infant’s cheek. He kissed her forehead and whispered “You are destined for greatness, my dear child.”
“I want to partake in the hunt, father.” Tiria said rather bluntly while unbraiding her hair in front the mirror in her bedroom. “I’m 16 now, old enough to prove myself and find a worthy mate.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Tiria. The hunt is very dangerous.” Kolvar replied, leaning against the doorway.
“Father, you trained me, and you’re the best warrior in all of Alamar! Besides, it will be time for me to take the throne soon, and I will need a prince-reagent.”
Kolvar sighed, she was stubborn like her mother. “The answer is no, Tiria. We can find you a mate without you partaking in the hunt.”
“Father! I can do this! I know I can!”
“I said no! Now drop this silly notion at once, and get yourself ready for the ball.”
Tiria huffed and turned back towards the mirror. She untied the leather thong that had kept her hair tied back and admired her reflection. Her long, wavy white locks cascaded over her shoulders, and her bright blue eyes all but glowed under her thick eyelashes. She was small, for an Alamarian, rising to just under five and a half feet tall, but this only added to her rare beauty. She was thin, but not sickly so, and her legs were long and slender. Her cheekbones were pronounced, and her jawline was strong, but still very feminine.
She stood, and with the incredible grace possessed by all of her race, she glided over to the enormous in-floor bathtub that was filled with hot water. She freed herself from the confines of her light blue nightgown, and draped it over the privacy screen. Tiria placed her hands on the side of the tub and gently stepped in. Letting out a sigh as she lowered her body into the soothing water, drawn from the mineral spring that ran under the city. It’s healing power was unmatched.
Tiria pinched her nose between her thumb and forefinger, took a deep breath, and dunked her head beneath the water. She stayed there for several seconds before resurfacing with a sharp intake of breath. She half swam over to a silver tap, grabbed a wash sponge, and lifted the handle of the tap. Creamy iridescent soap flowed from the tap onto the sponge.
She squeezed and rubbed the sponge until she got a good lather, and began washing her alabaster skin. She worked in a circular motion, starting with her left shoulder, and worked her way across her chest, over her small but womanly breasts, down her flat stomach, until she finally reached her slender toes. She took a quick glance around, saw that no one was around, and with a large smile, pinched her nose again and threw herself backwards into the water. She swam and swirled around under the water until she was sure all the soap had been rinsed off, then resurfaced. She returned to the same tap, and poured more soap into her hand, which she then used to wash her hair. While massaging her scalp, she moseyed over to the large indoor waterfall. She stopped and looked at the statue before her. It was an artists rendition of the Great Mother, the goddess of all things the Alamarians, and all races of Greerven, held dear. Tiria sighed quietly and walked under the water flowing from the water jug the statue held. She ran her long slender fingers through her hair, making sure to rinse out every trace of soap.
She stepped out of the bath and dried herself off with a soft towel, then wrapped her hair up in the towel, and covered herself with a colorful silk robe. She wandered back into her bedroom and saw a large, short gift box had been left on her bed. Raising an eyebrow, she walked over to the bed and opened the box. Resting inside was the most beautiful gown Tiria had ever laid eyes on. It was made of a dark green sheer fabric, with intricate gold thread about the collar. Tiria’s eyes went wide and she lifted the gown out of the box. It was floor length with a split skirt, and a white sheer underdress. It had long sleeves that split at the elbow and nearly reached the floor, with the same gold thread around the hem. She looked back inside the box and saw a jeweled belt of emeralds and diamonds, and a pair of exquisite white lambskin slippers.
Tiria beamed as she tossed the gown onto the bed and quickly brushed her hair and teeth. She dusted her face with a thin layer of powder, and her cheeks with a pale pink blush, coated her eyelashes with black mascara, and painting her lips with red lip stain, before dressing herself in the gown. she called in her handmaiden to help do her hair.
Once finished, she gazed at herself in the mirror. She was simply stunning. Her handmaiden was an artist with hair, in her own right. She had braided two strands from the front of Tiria’s hair on either side, then pulled them back and combined them in a neat bun at the back of her head, which was held in place by a white leather thong decorated with emeralds. White feather and diamond earrings dangled from either ear.
“You look like a queen m’lady.” The handmaiden said cheerfully. She was a young human woman named Amila. She was quite cute, like a tiny harvest mouse, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. She was awkward, but kindly, and she did her job well. Tiria always made sure she was personally paid well, and her family was well taken care of.
“I feel like a bitch being groomed for a dog show. Father no doubt already has some filthy rich but boring young magician or diplomat from one of the noble houses lined up for me.” Tiria said harshly.
“With all due respect, m’lady, your father loves you dearly and only wants what is best for you.”
“He only wants what he thinks is best for me. I refuse to allow myself to be married off to the highest bidder who only wants me for my inheritance.”
“You have a strong will, miss. That is a trait that can make a queen, or break one. Do not let your pride blind you to what is best for all of us, not just you.”
Tiria stiffened for a moment, then relaxed. “You have a point, Amila.” She sighed, then chuckled. “I’ll try my best to behave tonight.”
There was a sharp knock on the door.
“Tiria, are you ready? The guests are arriving, and the ball will be beginning shortly.” Kolvar’s voice was slightly muffled by the heavy wooden door.
“I will be down in a few minutes, father.”
Tiria slipped on the new slippers and found them quite comfortable. She stood, smoothed out the creases in her gown, and bedecked her throat and fingers with gold and diamonds before mouthing a thank you to her handmaiden and making her way down to the ballroom.
The ballroom was huge and slightly dizzying. It had a great vaulted ceiling, and statues representing the first five sentinels lines each wall, two on either side and the Alamarian sentinel, the sentinel of spirit, stood at the very back of the room, just behind the thrones. Kolvar was sitting in his throne, while the one next to him sat empty. The floors were white marble with gold striations.
Tiria stood on the balcony, overlooking it all. People of all the races conversed together while enjoying fine Alamarian wine and gourmet hors d’oeuvres that were brought to them by servants dressed in fine black tuxedoes. The Wolfkin, with their gold eyes and tanned skin, had a tribal way of life, living in various packs, led by an alpha male and his mate. Their nobles dressed in the finest animal hides, and decorated themselves with fine ivory and brightly colored beads. They all wore feathers in their hair, the color determined their rank within their pack. Those with red feathers were the alphas, those with white and brown striped were betas, and those with black feathers were the omegas, the lowest rank. The Wolfkin sentinel was fire.
The Diakin, with a druidic way of life, all had black eyes. The males had large antlers that grew up from the top of their head, and had tan skin. They tended to be quite brutish and fight mongering during their mating season. Thankfully, that time had passed a few months ago. The females were light skinned, and were usually quite shy, but known for their kindness and hospitality. Most of the female Diakin nobles present were heavily pregnant. The Diakin sentinel was earth.
The Flightkin, with a close-knit way of life, were all equals. The ones who were granted the privilege of attending balls were chosen by popular vote. Their legs were like that of a bird’s. Their arms doubled as wings, and their hands grew from the wrist joint of their wings. They were very private, but kindly people, though they could be frightening to look at for the first time. The Flightkin sentinel was air.
Then there were the Alamarians. Descended from the ancient dragons who gave them the gift of life. All Alamarians can heal wounds, cure sickness, and make plants grow. They could even weave a beautiful sheer cloth with magic, so their clothing was unmatched in beauty and monetary value. Alamarians came in all colors. Red, blue, green, black, gold, and even multiple colors in some cases. The Alamarian sentinel was spirit.
All sentinels were pure white, like Tiria and her mother before her.
Tiria slowly made her way down the grand staircase. A Wolfkin noble approached her and held out his hand. She had met him before. He was an alpha named Creekrunner who lost his mate and son during childbirth.
“Good evening, m’lady. You look as beautiful as ever.” He spoke kindly, there was a hint of ardor in his voice.
Everyone knew he was looking for a new mate, but there was rumor the grief of losing his mate and child had driven him mad. Tiria was nervous about him, but graciously accepted his hand and stepped down onto the smooth marble floor.
“You are very kind, Creekrunner. I hope things are going well for you?” Tiria responded with a kind, if not a little forced, smile.
“The death of my mate and son still weighs heavily on my mind, but I am doing much better now, thank you. Would you like a drink?”
“Oh, yes, thank you.” With that, the alpha walked off to grab their drinks.
“Tiria, how nice it is to see you again!” A peppy female voice rang out. Tiria turned to see a young Diakin woman walking a bit uncomfortably towards her.
“Dela, my gosh, you look like you’re about to pop!”
“Subtlety was never your forte, but yes. I am due any day now.”
“You’re not thinking of traveling home in that condition, are you?”
Dela laughed “No. I have a second home here in Broken Peak that I will be staying at until the baby is born. Speaking of which, I have something to ask of you.” Tiria raised an eyebrow, and Dela continued. “As you probably know, my husband passed away from a mysterious illness not long ago. So I have no one here to assist me. I was wondering if you could midwife the birth of my child?”
Tiria nearly gawked at her friend. “Me?”
“I trust no one else’s skill with medicine as much as you.”
“Of course I will Dela.”
“Thank you so much, my friend.” Dela bowed her head slightly. “Oh, here comes Creekrunner.”
Ah, Dela, it’s so good to see you.” A pained look flashed over his face when her saw her enormous belly, but was gone before anyone noticed. He handed one of the chalices over to Tiria, then turned to Dela. “Can I speak with her alone, please?”
“Of course.” She said with a slight smile. She bowed her head to Tiria and wandered off.
Creekrunner turned back to Tiria. “I want to tell you that I have had my eyes on you for a long time.” Tiria looked at him, stunned. “Your beauty is unmatched, and when I am around you, the pain I feel fades away. I know there are rumors of my madness, but I assure you that they are untrue.”
“I see you have already broken the news to my daughter.” Kolvar said, joining the group. He saw Tiria’s shocked expression. “Tiria, Creekrunner and I have spoken in length about this, and I agree that it would be a good match.”
“So this is all about politics to you?”
“Partly, yes. A marriage between you two would bring our races closer together. However, I do not ignore your happiness. I am well aware of the rumors, but I can tell you they are rumors only. Creekrunner could make you very happy.”
Tiria glared at her father. “You’ve already arranged it. I have no real choice in this, now do I?”
“Tiria, I...” Tiria stormed off before Kolvar could finish.
She stormed out of the palace and into the gardens while blinking back tears. Now she knew the real reason why her father had forbidden her to partake in the hunt.
“Damn my father to the abyss; and damn that crazy Wolfkin too!” She shouted, sitting down heavily on a stone bench. She inhaled a shaky breath, put her head in her hands and started crying. All she’d ever wanted was to choose her own mate, and now that choice had been made for her. She sniffed and looked up at the moonflowers before her. It was winter, and the flowers had long since died off until spring. Tiria held out her hand, and with a touch of magic, new moonflowers grew from the vines. She was so focused on her magic, that she startled when a shadow passed over her.
“You are very gifted.” Creekrunner said.
“If you’re only here to compliment me, save your breath. You’ll have plenty of time for that during our marriage.”
Creekrunner stiffened momentarily “Tiria, I know this isn’t what you wanted, but know that I don’t just want you for your inheritance.” He put his hand on her cheek and turned her face towards him. “Oh, my dear, don’t cry. I promise you will be happy with me.”