“I didn’t intend to interrupt your…” he smiled wide, “dressing.” His gaze swept over her and his already-wide smile flashed brighter, Zera’s face heated. Evidenced by his grin, he was actually pleased.
“I see you have completed yours.” Zera admired the fit of his formal uniform. His tailor designed well, just a hint of his rippling muscles showed beneath the rich cream fabric. She wondered, for the first time she could remember, what the flow of a man’s muscles would feel like beneath her hands. Sarc’s appearance produced a heated assault on Zera’s body, jangling her nerves. Her face flushed hotter and her breath caught in her throat.
“I came to leave a gift.” He presented the box. “Please open it later,” Sarc asked of her with a slight bow, and a wolfish smile. He left her to finish dressing.
Zera approached the large white coat box with caution, wondering what type of gift he’d brought her. The box, tied with a bright red ribbon, was secured with a time lock. Sarc meant her to open it when she returned from the wedding ceremonies. Zera fingered the bow and sighing, turned to Lornus, fright in her eyes. Her face drained from its flush, she paled, and sank down on the chair next to the box.
“Lornus,” Zera hesitated and drew a deep breath, “I’m afraid.”
“I suspected.” Lornus sat on the chair’s other padded arm and put her arm around Zera. She’d cared for all the royal children at varying times of their lives.
Zera remembered when Lornus came to care for them. The servant had been twenty, and in many ways the royal children looked on her as their mother, especially after their mother died when Teriana was born.
“You fear what you have never experienced. This is very unlike you. I’ve never known you to be afraid of anything, not that you would admit it. You were less concerned in your first battle.”
“I was trained for combat, I knew what to expect. I don’t know now,” Zera admitted.
“You know what you need to. We’ve discussed this.” Lornus’ words were spoken with her as she would her own daughter.
“Oh sure, the way things physically work, but…maybe knowing is why it’s so frightening,” She shook her head. “Sarc makes me feel… I didn’t expect these feelings.” Her face turned red. “I want to…run. Not so much from him…but the way he makes me feel.” Zera sighed. “I’m no coward!”
Lornus smiled. “With Lord Sarc…I feel sure you’ll not have a problem. I’ve seen how he looks at you.” She rubbed Zera’s back soothingly as if she was a little girl. “Now you must dress.”
Zera shuddered as the heavy slick material slipped over her head. Her mother’s dress had become a perfect fit after the alterations Lornus made. Zera, a bit fuller in the bodice and smaller in the waist than her mother, changed from a fierce warrior into a stunning woman.
Made from yards of pale rose lace overlaying a cream silk gown, the dress was modestly low in the front with a tailored bodice. Falling away from the pointed waist in the front, the skirt trailed in long lengths in the back. Lornus brushed Zera’s long blonde hair until it shone. Afterward she worked in the triplat and crystal crown into a simple style that drew her hair away from her face but allowed it to flow down her back. At the temple, she would attach the lace train to Zera’s shoulders before she began the long walk down the temple aisle to stand beside Sarc.
When Lornus was finished, Zera presented a regal image. A light knock on her door signaled Zera it was time to go. With Lornus in attendance, Zera stepped from her apartments to find herself surrounded by an honor guard of both Sarc’s bodyguards and guards from her own command. They all bowed in respect. However, the men and women from Zera’s personal command knelt, drew their swords and saluted her. Tears came to her eyes at their show of loyalty and affection.
“Thank you, my friends,” Zera acknowledged. They rose and closed ranks around her and Lornus, leaving plenty of room but securing them in the center of a perfectly kept rectangle. Zera was unaccustomed to being in the protected center, and more adapted to the alert perimeter. She was uncomfortable in the intensely feminine garments she wore. Meeting the stares of several close male friends, she was astonished to see longing in their eyes, a sentiment she was unaware of. She met their gazes as always. Embarrassed, Zera felt the warmth of a blush warm not only her face, but her body, marking her as an innocent bride. Zera wondered what they must think. The doors to the main temple loomed before her. The entourage paused for Lornus to attach the thin lace train before the doors swung open and the court rose.
With a quick glance, left and right, Zera surveyed those in attendance. The entire court was present as were many from Alphxorn’s court. Zera noted the jealous stares from several Alphxorn ladies, delicate beauties all. They were obviously nobles from that court who may have held aspirations of becoming Lord Sarc’s queen, and these developments didn’t please them. Equal numbers of her guards and Lord Sarc’s were visible. Her court seemed to be still holding its breath.
Zera reminded herself to breathe. She looked ahead, down the middle of the immense temple, her gaze drawn to Sarc’s image. He stood on the lower step, yet his presence dominated the sacred altar, the priest and priestess two steps above him. The sun shone directly on him from the small opening far above the sanctified oracle. A round beam seemed focused on his image, generating a glow from his royal crown of triplat and crystal. The beam formed a circle with him standing alone in a space that appeared to wait for one more image—hers.
Her sister, Teriana, preceded Zera, dressed in shades of sheer, flowing rose silk in a darker shade. A gown of many layers provocatively shaped her slender girlish figure, revealing her long legs with each step. The richer colors of Teriana’s gown, chosen to complement Zera as the bride, set off the girl’s deeper blonde beauty well. Sarc’s brother Phorx stood beside his brother as witness.
Zera felt frozen. She willed her feet to step, but they didn’t. She commanded them to step and at last her feet obeyed. She began the long journey toward the end of the aisle and a new life already begun.
Sarc’s face looked impassive from the distance of the temple but as she drew closer Zera realized he was long accustomed to obscuring his feelings from his people, unless he wished to show them. He commanded her gaze drawing her to him. Zera found she had no desire to disobey him. Even her fear of his passions couldn’t keep her from realizing his full need for her displayed in his stare as he looked at her. For a hesitant second, Zera’s footsteps faltered. She wondered if anyone close enough to see, could doubt his desire for her. As she reached Sarc’s side, he took her hand into his. He seemed to notice her trembling, and he kissed her hand to reassure her. She looked up into Sarc’s face. She felt her face drain of color and the room grew bright.
* * * *
Sarc gazed down at Zera and considered what kind of woman she was. Battle seemed to energize her. She sat and coolly faced down his ambassador, known to be an overbearing man, who overstepped his authority and threatened war. Yet faced with her wedding she looked as though she might collapse. He loved a mystery and Zera was an enigma. From the moment he saw Zera, he loved her—possibly before. Her pictures captivated him. Rarely did his people see his true emotions; this was one of those times. He wanted everyone to see his love for his queen. The ladies of his court who had aspirations to the queen’s throne of Alphxorn, would have those ambitions laid to rest. He smiled down into her face not caring that his affection and passion shone bright in his eyes.
“Zera, don’t faint!” Sarc admonished quietly, teasing, fascinated by the paradox standing beside him.
“I won’t,” she whispered back.
He found her gaze mesmerizing and swallowed, drinking in the return of his desire he beheld in her blazing blue eyes.
Could she have already come to care for him?
High Priest Marout cleared his throat in a quiet manner breaking the spell between them and drawing their attention back to the ceremony. Sarc still held her hand and nodded to the priest to begin the rites. He glanced at Zera noticing her face had regained some color and she managed a smile toward the priest as he intoned the first of several prayers.
Sarc had instructed portions of both world’s marriage customs be combined to provide a ritual acceptable to both cultures. He found this rendering proved long and demanding, requiring the participants’ focused attention. Beside him, Zera performed her role and she seemed as relieved as he when the high priest of Alphxorn stepped before them to perform the benedictions signaling the conclusion of the services.
He gazed into the face of his wife and queen and cradled her face between his hands. With reverence, he lowered his lips to take hers in a kiss that intensified and sealed their union. He felt no hesitation in her response. Her toned, muscular arms encircled his neck drawing him closer and drove all thoughts of the people watching from his mind.
“My Lord, shall we conclude?” Marout asked in a discreet whisper.
Sarc heard the humor in the priest’s voice. He smiled, drawing away from Zera noticing she smiled too. He kept his arm around her waist supporting her, feeling her need for his support as she leaned against him during their embrace. His gaze joined with hers for a moment winking at her before they turned to acknowledge the audience.
Sarc scanned the attending guests comprised of family, friends, high ranking military and members from both courts. He assessed the reactions of the assembled host to the joining of their two worlds. He concluded the majority of their families, nobles, and military supported his and Zera’s union. Gratified, he made no effort to hide his happiness and kept a possessive arm around her waist. He addressed the company briefly to dismiss them, instructing them to proceed to the banquet hall assuring them they would join them presently.
“Let us hope,” Zera whispered to her new husband, “that our courts can reside in peace for the evening.”
“I had a similar thought and instructed Ko-ton to post extra security…” he smirked and added, “comprised of an equal number from both our militaries.”
“I applaud your forethought. I doubt the household staff would appreciate a full-blown fight at table….” She laughed and glanced at him in a coy manner. Sarc cocked his head a bit and caught her meaning. The vision of food being thrown from Alphxorn nobles across the formally-set tables toward those of Seti-Cronus’ formed clear in his mind and he laughed.
“At least no blood would be spilled.” He noticed both high priests glance in their direction with curious expressions, but both remained silent.
He and Zera adjourned with the priests to endorse the documentation of their union giving their combined courts time to become situated in the banquet hall before joining them. Marout handed him an ancient writing stylus to affix his name to a document of traditional vellum. Doing so, he passed it to Zera to complete the certification process.
Because of the period of mourning and the urgent preparations for defense against the pirates, the celebration was kept small for an important political wedding, which was satisfactory to him. Arriving at the banquet hall escorting Zera, her hand resting on his arm, they found the company in order. He glanced at her at the same time she did him and an inscrutable smile passed between them. His gaze traveled back over the gathering and he noticed puzzled glances among a number of the people present.
Good! Keep them guessing!