Water supported her body like a cocoon, enveloping her with warmth. Siria stared into the shimmering sky, seeing the sun's rays bend with every wave, dancing above her, glistening like fireflies. Her tranquil world was all but still, every tremor in the water soft as a babe's breath. It was a world familiar to her, yet not. It was her only solace from the burden of reality, and the dreams that possessed her every night.
She was always alone in these daylight visions, half a dream, half not. Yet, today was different. Siria could feel another's body in the water, as suspended, as lost as she was. She had to look deeper into the depths to see him, a man of strong build almost lost in the depths, his floating locks as red as blood.
"Who are you?" she asked him.
Her words were a cavernous echo, the water trembling with the sound. She knew he had heard her—yet, he stared, silent. He seemed but a shell of a man, hollowed by untold horrors.
He reached towards her, his hand as smooth as a child's, though with nails as sharp as knives. The sight made her hesitate. Despite the gentleness in his emerald gaze, she could not see past his monstrous claws.
He seemed to be drifting deeper, further from her. She wanted to reach for him, but could not. Her fear made the water cold, keeping her there. Her peace disturbed, she watched him fall.
Siria lifted her head from the frosted windowpane, rubbing the cold skin to return its color. Groggy, she regarded her concerned caretaker with the dullest of looks, only able to tell Twyla's black locks from the other shadows after one, two, three blinks.
"Princess, Anya will soon be arriving in the castle," said Twyla, already helping the young woman from the window's ledge. "It's about time you joined your father and brothers in the throne room."
Siria yawned and sighed, stretching to return feeling to her fingertips. She was dreading this day, but knew that stalling could do little to help her now. Now, her only defense was to whine.
"Why must I be there?" she asked, pouting. "It's Niki who must meet his bastard child, not me."
"Now isn't the time for your disrespect," said Twyla. "Your eldest brother needs your support now; it would be most wise for you to behave."
The Princess cringed, dreading this meeting ever the more, but consented. She allowed her Kyron caretaker to escort her through the stone hallways to the somber throne room. The crimson path stretched out from beneath the imposing throne, whose wood was as sturdy and dark as it had always been. Atop it, Siria saw her father—a strong man of chestnut skin who had barely left his prime, with a freshly shaved face and narrow, Storma eyes. Beside him stood her brothers, who were but a paler reflection of his image.
Many claimed that the Princes were impossible to distinguish from one another, for their faces were perfectly alike, as was their stature, and the texture of their hair. However, Siria knew how different they truly were. She could see the difference even then, for Ariel looked tiredly about, more bored than anxious, as his elder brother stared forward, his face set in the haunted look it had known since the day his betrothed was sent away.
"I thank you for bringing her, Twyla," said the King, acknowledging them with a nod.
Twyla smiled as she bowed.
"It was not easy."
Siria bowed as well, though she knew she did not have to. Her father's affectionate gaze told her this was so. As Twyla left, dismissed by his nod, the Princess took her place beside Ariel. At once, her brother bowed playfully to kiss her hand. His smile was all that defied the somber air of that room.
"You look tired, Sia," he teased, "did some beau keep you up too late?"
She blushed and hushed him, pushing him away.
"Menace," she whispered.
Too soon, the doors opened. The castle guards escorted in a young woman dressed in the furs of Rionan royalty—and a similarly-dressed child, who clung tightly to her hand. Anya looked the same as she had those years before – her golden locks pinned up with diamonds, away from her perfectly-formed features – and the child was just as he was described: a pretty boy with his mother's golden locks, Storma eyes set in a Rionan face. They were Nikolai's eyes, unmistakably. Yet, there was something unsettling about them. Those dark blue orbs glistened with unearthly wisdom, ill-suited for such a young child. Siria noticed then that it was not the boy who clutched to his mother, but the mother who clung to her son's hand.
Asyrias did not rise to greet them. He addressed them plainly from where he sat, as was his fashion.
"Does the child have a name?" he asked the Princess.
Anya nodded, her gaze darting nervously away.
"Daniil," she replied.
The King acknowledged this, and gestured for her to bring the child near. Then, he rose up, ceremoniously drawing the red blade of Corliss from its sheath.
"You will be known as Daniel," he said, touching the flat of the blade to the boy's blond locks. "It is a name more suitable for a Larascan Prince. You will grow accustomed to it."
He withdrew his sword when the child bowed his head, seeming to understand.
"Daniel," the boy echoed.
For a moment, Asyrias seemed pleased, though he did not smile for others. As he sheathed Corliss, he turned his gaze upon his eldest child.
"Go to your son, Nikolai."
The Prince hesitated, swaying back as though he were ill. Siria could see the unusual pallor to his fair skin, the stress already tightening his movements. However, Nikolai obeyed. He ventured close to the child, regarding him with suspicion one might give a stray dog. After much hesitation, he touched the boy's shoulder.
"Hello," he managed, clearly forcing the sound.
Siria smiled, admittedly surprised. After all the shouting that had led up to this moment, she was relieved to see how calmly her brother now acted. For but an instant, it seemed things would soon return to normal.
Then, she saw a strange glimmer in the boy's eyes. As Daniel lifted his head, a chill ran through her, growing colder when that boy met his father's gaze—the child's just as strong. He spoke suddenly, his words lacking the stumbling softness of youth.
"Your death will come at the hands of your loved ones. They will push you, push you into cold oblivion."
At once, Nikolai recoiled. Anya moved even faster, forcing the child behind her as she bowed to the King, staring at the ground to avoid all the horrified looks from those who shared that space.
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty," she said. "He does this at times—I have no explanation for it."
Siria expected her father to be as disturbed as she was, or at least to express some concern; he did neither. He alone regarded them calmly.
"It seems Xavier blood is strong in him."
Asyrias looked to the guards, who lingered by the door.
"Take them to their chambers. See that they are comfortable."
The woman and her child were led away, out into the castle halls. Siria could not help but feel a sense of relief when they were gone. For now, she could avoid the imminent changes that would come with their arrival. However, she noticed warily how Ariel's eyes followed the Princess as she left, observing her like a playful predator.
"Nikolai, Ariel," addressed the King, "return to your chambers. I will send for you later."
Both went against their natures to bow in unison, speaking in chorus:
Siria moved to follow them as they left, but her father's raised hand stopped her departure.
She knew the gentleness in his voice. The Princess turned to smile at him, kneeling politely at the edge of the raised platform. As a woman, it was proper for her to take this servant's stance before her King—yet, she held her head up bravely to gaze upon him, for she had never felt fear in his presence. Though he was known throughout the land for his volatile temper and chilling snarl, Siria had never been witness to these things. To her, Asyrias Xavier was a man whose violet eyes could hold no harshness, whose strong arms were for embraces, and his deep voice for comforting words. Her love for him was unwavering, as his was for her.
"Rise," he told her, "you know I see no point in formalities."
She did so, laughing as she smiled.
"I'm just trying to be a good girl."
He seemed amused by her words, though he only shook his head. With a sigh, he beckoned her closer.
"I wanted to apologize for the mess that transpired on your birthday. I should have realized…"
The King hesitated, as he often did when trying to make amends. It did not seem something that came naturally to him—Siria had watched him struggle with it all her life. This time, he seemed to merely give up. He rose from his throne, so much taller than she, and leaned down to kiss her forehead.
"It will be better next year," he said.
She nodded, hearing remorse in his voice.
"I forgive you, Father."
Her words made him sigh. He stepped away, lifting her chin so that she might see his face.
"You used to call me Papa, not long ago," he said. "To have all of my children addressing me so formally makes me feel…old."
"You are old," she teased.
She knew he wouldn't have tolerated the remark from anyone else. It brought her secret pride to see that this insolence from her received little more than roll of his eyes and a pinch of her cheek. Soon, his pleasant expression returned.
"I have a birthday gift for you."
At once, she was dizzy with excitement. In the past, her father had given her diamonds and rubies, even exotic pets—she had never known a disappointing gift. So when he reached into his cloak, withdrawing a silver dagger, at first she was confused. She did not immediately recognize the strange shape of its hilt, which was curved like the wedge of a sundial.
"Do you remember this weapon, Siria?"
She shook her head.
The Princess noticed with curiosity how tightly its blade was bound with cloth, tied with thin, knotted ropes so expertly that one could not loosen them without purpose.
"This was your mother's dagger," he explained, some distance in his eyes. "It was hers since I married her. She claimed it saved my life, and though I don't know how, I believed her."
He gazed at the hilt, his dark fingers running over its smooth edge.
"When she died, I decided not to give it to your brothers. That would have been the proper thing to do, as you, a daughter, are not permitted to own a weapon. But…"
"I am King—what do I care about rules?"
Once more, he offered her the forbidden artifact.
"From mother to daughter; that is the right manner of succession."
She wasn't sure what to say. She was awed by his trust in her, and the beauty of the gift. Its symbolic power was just as great—for at last, she would have a piece of her mother.
With a warm smile, she accepted the dagger.
"Thank you, Father."
Despite his clear joy, there was hesitation in Asyrias' gaze.
"Try to be cautious of it," he said. "It is an unusual weapon. For your own sake, you must never touch its blade."
"I'll be careful," she soothed, only amused by his concern. "I promise not to cut myself."
He sighed, a sound she usually heard when she misunderstood something. Still, he would say no more on it. Before returning to his throne, he again kissed her forehead.
"Rest in your own room, tonight. I do not like worrying over your whereabouts."
"Of course, Father."
His silence was her dismissal. She was relieved to return to the solitude of the long halls, where she could peacefully examine the gift she had been given.
Siria eventually came to sit on the ledge of one of her royal grandfather's mosaics. Dusk's prevailing light cast blue shadows on her hands through the glass, artificially coloring the artifact she held. She found it almost warm in her hands, like a stone set too long in the sun's gaze. It was unusual—yet, its beauty made her proud. How she longed to loosen the ropes that bound cloth around its blade, to peek at the mysterious craftsmanship.
Footsteps in the hallway diverted her attention. She was surprised to see Ariel coming her direction, lazily buttoning a new coat. Quickly, she hid her gift.
"Didn't Father tell you to go to your room?" she chided, just as he passed her.
The young man scoffed, playfully tousling her hair to put it in disarray.
"It sounded more like a suggestion. What are you going to do, tell on me?"
"I should," she huffed.
Ariel smiled, though it was a strange smile. It seemed to be pleasant, like a cobra merely eyeing a trespasser in its territory.
"Aren't you a little old for that, Sia?" he laughed, folding his arms in a calm, confident way. "In any case, you wouldn't do such a tasteless thing."
Siria was uncertain whether to be annoyed or threatened.
"And why wouldn't I? You know very well that Father does not make meaningless requests."
Her brother simply smiled, a sweet sight on a suspicious face.
"You wouldn't want Father to find out about your nightly adventures, would you? How you sample sons of nobility as though they were meats on a platter?"
Color fled Siria's face. She stared at the Prince with new eyes, horrified by his words. Only her brothers knew what she did the nights she disappeared from her bedroom—only her brothers, who claimed to be the defenders of her honor.
Ariel smiled again, tousling her hair in an affectionate way.
"Why don't you go visit Niki? He's in one of his…moods. You know better than anyone how to diffuse all that hot air."
At last, her brother seemed to notice the weapon she held. A strange look came over him, something suspended between anger and anguish—a look far removed from his natural character. But he said nothing else. With that, he left her there, disappearing into another bend of the castle's cold halls. She was left alone, left to smother the entirety of her newfound fear.
Siria made only one stop before going to the chambers of the Crown Prince. She went into her own room, observing the mess she had made of the place. The silken sheets were still in a pile, twisted by another gruesome nightmare—another night of restless writhing. She was used to the sight. Jewelry was strewn carelessly across her vanity, as she changed her adornments often during the day, and preferred to keep her favorite necklaces and earrings where she could easily get to them. Though it made the maids hate her, she saw no need to change this habit. Books littered the ground here and there, some concealed by rumpled gowns and undergarments; pillows were piled on the window's ledge, where she spent some sleepless nights pressed against the cool glass, to keep herself half-conscious.
The Princess made no effort to clean the mess, simply moving through it with a careful step. When she came to her dresser, she pulled open one or two of the drawers, to see which were not too stuffed with clothing. Only the last opened without difficulty, where she kept her corsets and unmentionables. Although somewhat unseemly, it was here she would bury her mother's dagger. Princess or not, she was not allowed to own a weapon. Its placement would at least keep gentlemen from searching for it.
Before she left, she spotted the brown body of a stuffed rabbit folded among the mess, its adored shape compromised by mess that surrounded it. This, Siria could not bear to ignore. She lifted the rabbit from the pile of unloved clothing, holding him up to the dimming rays of sunlight. Her dear Christopher, beloved Chrissy, was thinned now by time, its soft skin rubbed raw, and an eye fallen from its visage. Yet, she no matter how worn and shapeless he became, she would treasure him all the same.
She took Christopher to her vanity, sitting him up so his back was propped against her mirror. Though he folded some, his ears flopping forward, he would stay there. Siria corrected his posture one last time.
"Stay, little Chrissy. You mustn't get more bent up…"
The rabbit could not respond, of course. She did not expect him to. But she spoke to him, knowing that he would always listen without judgment—continue to love her, in spite of all her sins.
He flopped over again, and she sighed. In this somber mood, she left her chambers, not caring to lock the door behind her.
The Princess found her brother in his room, as Ariel had told her. Unlike hers, the Prince's chambers were immaculate. The bed was made, the books ordered neatly on the shelves, the quills organized on a dusted desk. Nikolai was standing, his posture straight and unyielding, as he gazed out the window. Although Siria could only see his back, she guessed that his expression was as controlled as his stance.
"Are you all right, Niki?" she asked, carefully closing the door.
He didn't seem surprised by her voice, or her presence. At first, he only cast her a dull glance over his shoulder, eyes of deep blue regarding her in apathy. He turned away once more.
"Did you hear what he said?" Nikolai spoke at last, a slight trembling to his voice. "My so-called son prophesized my death. He spoke as though it were a greeting, not enough even to change the tone of his voice…"
He bristled, tensed visibly for a single moment. Then, it was contained again.
"I'll have nothing to do with that creature. His eyes might resemble mine, but they glow like a demon's—vile; unnatural."
Siria was saddened greatly, hearing these words. She wasn't yet brave enough to touch him, but knew she could not remain there in silence.
"He's your son, Niki. Can't you speak some kind words about him?"
"He was a mistake. He is nothing more."
His head dropped, jaw clenching tight.
"Anya and Daniel are nothing to me. Father can force me to marry that tart, but he can't make me love her. And the child…"
His posture tensed once more, hate fighting to escape its binds.
"You can hardly call it a child."
These words only damaged her further. She regarded him with anguish, so disheartened now that she could not stop herself from touching him, wrapping her arms around him from behind.
"Niki…those thoughts can't be yours," she managed, only holding him tighter. "What happened to the man who wrote poems for his love? Who smiled and gave presents to the peasants' children? That was you…that is you…"
At last, she could feel his body relax. His shoulders fell, and he held his head in his hand, pressing against his forehead.
"I'm just…angry," he said at last. "I'm powerless, and I'm angry."
"What happened to Anya, maybe that could be her fault; she did try to hide the baby from her family. But it's not your son's fault that he was born. If you spurn him like this, ignore him…"
She hesitated, uncertain how much she was truly allowed to say.
"Isn't that what Father did to you?"
The Prince was quiet. For a long time, he said nothing. He did not unwrap her arms, seeming eased by her touch. Siria only waited, made hesitant by his silence, uncertain whether to retract her words. However, before she could pull away, he had turned in her arms. He wrapped his own around her, bringing her into his gentle embrace.
"For you," he said, quietly. "For you, I will tolerate him."
She melted into his hold, tucking her head beneath his chin, her arms crossing against his straight back. Only Nikolai held her this close. Her father's embraces were brief, as though he feared that the heat of his skin might burn her; Ariel had never taken enough interest in her life to have to hold her at all. Only Nikolai kept her there, safe from all the world, his strong arms warding off even her darkest nightmares.
"Promise me that you won't be cruel anymore," she said. "It makes you frightful…"
He agreed with a faint nod.
Nikolai laughed gently, pulling away to look into her eyes—deep blue gazing into the purest sapphire.
"I, as Crown Prince, promise you, Princess Siria Xavier, that I will cease all cruelty towards others of our race."
As he smiled – that rare, sweet expression – he took her chin into his hand, as her father had done, to lift her gaze. He kissed her forehead, and passed his smile on to her.
"Are you satisfied, sister?"
She nodded, contentment returned to her soul.
"You don't break a promise."
The sun was setting on the horizon, turning the light orange, and red, and violet. Nikolai released her, then, to return to the window. He observed these colors in perfect silence, as if absorbed in the sight of them. Curious, Siria approached him, touching his hand.
"What do you see?" she asked.
He did not answer immediately. His observation continued, each color reflecting off his pale visage. Siria's father had told her that Nikolai had the "Xavier glow." She had thought that was just justification for his paleness, but it seemed now that he was different—that his skin shone, bending the light of the land.
"An ending," he said at last. "Beauty, before darkness."
These words troubled her, though intangibly. She remained beside him, lacing their fingers together as she leaned her head against his shoulder. For only a moment, she glimpsed his smile.
He squeezed her hand, a comfort.
"Sleep in here, tonight."
She smiled with pure joy, unable to stop herself from embracing him again. This would be another night she would escape the nightmares, without giving away another shred of herself.
As they held each other, they seemed in perfect balance. Nikolai, a man of deep thought, whose dark nature threatened to overcome him; Siria, a young woman slave to her emotions—all that could contain the Prince's darkness. He kept her smiling. She kept him sane.
"I love you," she whispered to him, the sound filled with warmth.
His faint nod, as he held her closer. He spoke words to complete hers.
"As I love you."
The binding of their sacred bond.
Author's Note: I have this story completed up to Chapter 20, but I'll only post new chapters up if there's enough demand for it. So, please review?