Chapter 1: Candlelight
"Ivor has asked for Zora's hand in marriage." The Chief sat on his deerskin chair and glanced steely at Pyro.
The thick walls of his chamber held off the constant bickering wind. Hooked above the entrace was a stag. An inch to the ceiling, its antlers looked wild and lethal. Opposite, the curtains billowed out from the sudden gusts of chilled air. Pyro held himself stiff as the draft seeped in from the open window behind his Chief. Between the two stood a candle; its flame bowed low.
"The Chief of Argo, sire?"
"I wish for you to accompany her," Pyro's Chief continued, acknowledging his words.
Pyro resisted a glance at the candleflame, flickering against the breeze. It sent shadows dancing across the stone walls, darkening paintings and sculptures in their turn. The Chief noticed it, too.
"Close the window." He waved his hand behind him. Pyros stole forward; his hand sneaked under the heavy tapestries, and he tightened the latch.
Turning around to his chief's back, his eyes searched over the casual nightwear, zoning in to the now-steady flame. Relief engulfed Pyro: the fire was safe.
"I would like you to accompany her."
"Yes sire." Pyros strode back in front of his Chief.
"Not only that."
Pyros glanced up from studying the older man's worn slippers.
"Do you remember our first letteres?"
Wordlessly, Pyro nodded. To be sworn into a Substrata human clan – a sign of peace. He had been chosen to be the personal advisor and body guard of the Chief. He remembered it: swear by your body, mind and soul that you will serve me loyally, signed, King Zephyr, with an expensive Z.
"You said that you would swear by your courage instead, because it is the highest thing a Cor could swear by." The Chief leaned forwards swiftly, and grabbed Pyro's wrist. The colour of their skins contrasted like day and night. Pyro's inhaled sharply. Black for ash. The candle flame jerked, pulling the strings of the shadows, dancing them across Chief Zephyr's face. He had a squared chin, and if standing on ceromony, it would've been tilted proudly. But here, alone with his closest advisor, it sagged to his chest.
"You have been loyal to me for years. Now I ask you to accompany my niece to foreign lands – I would ask you," he sounded strained, and his grip on Pyro threatened to leave bruises the next day, "swear your alliegence to my niece so that I may can rest easy in the knowledge that she is in good hands."
Pyro looked at the candle flame again. Now it stood so slim, as if waiting. "I will do what my Lord bids me," he answered, gently unhooking his Chief's fingers from his wrist.
"Thank you, Pyro." The Chief eased himself gently back into his chair. The fists that curled so strongly around the hilt of a battlesword hung loosely around the armrests. "Tomorrow she will meet you. The next week, you will travel to Argo." The last words, he spoke with great difficulty, as if he could even bear the thought of it.
Pyro thought he glimpsed tears, but quickly dismissed the thought.
His Chief chuckled bitterly, but then he asked, "Do you know why I send my beloved girl away?" He wept openly now, the back of his hand touching the corner of an eye.
"I know, sire," replied Pyro steadily; he knew that Chief Zyphr would not make such a decision lightly. It was for the best: a strategic marriage, an alliegence between two clans. A promise of peace. He watched his Chief carefully, and then glanced away to the fire.
Water always made him uneasy. He would have to cross a river to reach Argo. The flame shuddered, and Pyro wrenched his eyes away from it. "With your permission sire, I would like to handpick fifteen men. I would also like Blade to travel with us."
"The Bladed Man?" The Chief scrunched his hankerchief into a fist.
"It is a dangerous journey, sire," Pyro answered, lifting his gaze to meet his Chief's.
"Yes, I know that – but fifteen men, your gift, and The Bladed Man!" The Chief shot to his feet, fists raised. "Is it that dangerous? Have I sent the child on a death journy?" The last words snagged in his throat.
Pyro guided the man gently back to his seat. He knelt down in front of his distressed Chief, pressed his white hands against his own dark forehead and whispered, "Sire, I swear to you by my courage that no evil will come to your daughter. And I will stay with her in Argo to assure you that my Lady will always be under my protection."
Gasping sobs robbed the older man of all speech. He clutched Pyro's hand and did not let go.
Outside, the wind strengthened and guttered all lanterns swinging against it. Only the one hanging from the exterior of Chief Zephyr's chamber still burnt strong, lit by Pyro's hand himself.