Desaria, Lady of the Phoenix and reigning Monarch of Tihman, sat stiffly in her seat. This was the reception for her coronation, which had just been a continuation of her day. The Phoenix perched calmly on his perch next to her ornate chair. Despite the crimson cushion, the bejeweled golden chair was hard and unrelenting. Truth be told, it may have looked nice, but it was less comfortable than a wooden bench.
Desaria still wore the clothing of a candidate for the Ladyship, but she also wore the red-gold circlet around her brow with its see-through veil of deep rose hanging behind. Her hair was down. She was the only one in her style of clothing, for the disappointed noblewomen had changed already. To her right, past the Phoenix, sat Haylar, as the escort who'd brought her. To her left sat Jyrian, who apparently was a high-ranking nobleman of some type. Still, Desaria pretty much just concentrated on not fainting in front of her new subjects. Today had gone by very fast. In fact, she decided, too fast.
"My Lady," whispered Jyrian. "You should eat some of this course."
"Jyrian, this is the fifth course," replied she. "I can't eat this much."
"Try, my Lady," Haylar said instead.
"This is my party, right?" asked Desaria.
"Of course, my Lady," they replied simultaneously.
"Then I'm leaving now." She stood, and offered her arm, now covered by a gauntlet, to Phoenix. He gently stepped onto the leather, tightening his claws only slightly. Leaving her two courtiers staring after her, she left.
Unfortunately, Desaria had no idea where she was supposed to stay.
"Excuse me," she said to a passing servant. "I'm afraid I don't know where my room is."
"Which room is that, my Lady?" the servant asked hesitantly.
She blinked in surprised. "The one I sleep in."
"The West wing, my Lady."
"Oh, it's in the West wing?" she asked.
The servant looked at her oddly. "No, my Lady, it is the West wing."
Desaria's jaw dropped. The reception room to her chambers was larger than her family's house. And this was only the first room. According to the servant, she had a private bathing area with a hot pool, cold pool, and massage table, not to mention the sauna. Then there was her bedroom which was twice the size of the reception room, plus two guest bedrooms. In her room there was a closet twice the size of Duchess Talaga's. The bed alone would easily fit three of her. There was a perch in here where she put Phoenix. She looked hopelessly around her room, feeling very, very small.
A page came into the room with her and bowed. "My Lady, Count Jyrian is here to see your Ladyship."
"Okay," Desaria replied after a moment.
The page looked troubled. "May I show him in, my Lady?"
"Yes, show him in." She tried very hard to look like she knew what she was doing. A moment later, the ash-blond young man entered. Desaria asked, "What do you want?" in a helpless tone.
"I wanted to make sure you were all right, my Lady," he said in a too innocent voice as the page left. "You left in quite a hurry."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to waste that much time on ceremony," Desaria replied, a bit harshly. "Plus I'm tired. A lot happened today."
"I agree," Jyrian said softly, coming a bit closer to her. Desaria thought about backing away, but couldn't—she was already up against her bed.
She swallowed. "Why don't we go into that reception place?"
"Why?" he countered.
"There are places to sit in there." She carefully sidestepped around him, and rapidly led the way into the overly large room, sitting in a chair that could clearly only sit one. If Jyrian was hinting at what she thought he was hinting at, she wouldn't help him. The Phoenix flew after them on his still burning wings, landing on a perch across the room.
"So was there anything else you wanted to talk about?" Desaria asked, trying to keep things friendly, but not too friendly.
Jyrian looked at her with what she could tell was an invitation, inexperienced though she may have been. Desaria was at a loss for an excuse to avoid the awkward refusal she knew she'd have to give. Fortunately, she was saved by her page, who came into the reception room from the hallway outside.
"My Lady," she said with a bow. "General Haylar is here, asking for you to receive him."
Though Jyrian was trying to tell her with his eyes to refuse, Desaria said, "Of course. Send him right in." She thanked whatever was guiding her steps for this show of fortune.
Haylar came in almost immediately and looked astonished to see Jyrian there. Haylar absently brushed blue-black hair out of his face, and cleared his throat.
"Lady Desaria, you went from the dining hall so quickly, I wanted to make sure you—"
"Were all right," she finished. "Yes, I'm fine. I just found the dinner boring, and felt like leaving." She feigned a large yawn, for she saw exactly what both her courtiers wanted. "I also feel like bed, so would you mind leaving?"
"Of course," Jyrian said after a moment, and Haylar was forced to agree. They left, and, with a sigh of relief, Desaria returned with Phoenix to her bedchamber.
She flung the golden crown across the room, and didn't bother undressing before throwing herself onto the bed. She shut her eyes to try to hinder the advancing headache. Suddenly, a slight sound awoke her, as an unfamiliar voice spoke.
"You know, this crown is really worth a lot more than should be thrown across a room."
Desaria opened her eyes and mouth to scream, but a firm hand clamped tightly over her mouth, smothering it.
"God, why do you all do that?" he asked, and Desaria frantically wondered what to do. She glanced at the Phoenix's perch…
…But he wasn't there. She returned her eyes to the man, ageless and yet about her age, whose hand was clamped over her mouth. His hair was golden, except it caught red in the lamplight. His eyes were tilted, and an ethereal emerald green. His skin was golden-brown, and all signs suggested he had been born that way.
"Are you going to scream again, Desaria?" he asked, calmly.
She shook her head, no.
"Good then." He removed his hand from her mouth, half expecting her to try again, obviously, but she didn't.
"Who are you?" asked Desaria. Then she shook her head. "No, never mind. How?"
The Phoenix—for that was who he was—smiled slightly. "Ah, a smart one. I haven't had one of you figure it out first in generations."
"How?" she repeated, not dwelling on that remark.
He sat down on the bed. "Now that's an interesting story. Almost as interesting as those two men you have lusting after you. It's just…the way I am, I suppose. Ever since the first time, with the first Lady, Jenesti, I found I could go from bird, to human, and back again. Only the Ladies have ever known, of course. Can't you just imagine the mass uproar public knowledge of this would cause?" He laughed, quietly. "It would be the largest mob any of us have ever seen, all coming straight here. Just because I'm immortal and not fully human, it's generally expected I hold all knowledge…but I digress. The transformation seems to have something to do with tying myself to Tihman this way. Your predecessors and I have all been…very close."
Desaria looked at him with wide eyes. "You have got to be kidding."
Phoenix shook his head. "Oh, no. Didn't you ever notice that none of the Ladies have ever wed, save for alliances? And yet, some have had children. No man has ever claimed these, despite the rank it would give him."
"Actually, I didn't know that. I was born very common." And, though it rankled her, Desaria found herself attracted to this…man, this creature, in a way she hadn't been with any man before.
"I know that," he retorted. "I chose you, didn't I? I know all of your history, all of your personality."
"Now that's hardly fair," Desaria said with a dry humor. "We only just met."
His eyes turned toward heaven. "Oh, God, not another one. I don't know if I can deal with another Jenesti."
Desaria looked at him with a strange frustration, and, despite who he was, kicked him through the bed sheets she was still under.
"Yes, just like her," sighed Phoenix, and despite his joking demeanor, he looked a bit melancholy. But that was gone as soon as she noticed it. "Jenesti adored me in bird form, but couldn't stand me like this, not for the first year or two. Probably because, being not human, I kept asking her to explain everything. I don't care what the people say, I am not an all-knowing demigod. It was loath at first sight. Then, it was love at…something live five millionth sight. Still, it's not a time I would trade for anything."
"Do you always talk this much?" Desaria asked with a sigh. "I really would like to wake up sometime soon."
"You're not asleep, oh all-powerful Lady of the Phoenix," he said in a mocking tone. "Or if you are, all of this is a figment of your imagination. Besides, there's no pain in dreams." He swatted her soundly across the hand, which stung afterward.
"Ouch!" cried Desaria. "Okay, if it's a dream, it's one with pain. If it's not, I'm going insane."
"Talking to a strange man in the middle of the night who claims to be able to turn into a bird?" replied Phoenix. "No, of course you're not crazy. Actually, seriously, you're not."
"Not crazy, or not dreaming?" she muttered. Then a previous comment came to mind. "Wait a moment. What do you mean, those the two men I have lusting after me?"
"Now I know you're not that slow," he retorted. "Desaria, love, you've got those…court-bred boys, Haylar and Jenesti infatuated with you. Or at least your power. I must admit, though, it could be just your appearance."
"Or maybe the fact that two weeks ago I was a cleaning woman," she said in the same tone. "Look. This can't be real."
"Oh, so you know all that's real or not, after only nineteen years of life. Desaria, I assure you, it's quite real." He smiled. "For now, though, you should probably get some sleep. You get to learn all sorts of manners and customs tomorrow."
Desaria gave him a wry look, but he just stood up, and walked to a chair. Despite the staring contest to keep her awake, she eventually did fall asleep.