Candles flickered in the darkened temple. Night had fallen all around her and yet she did not stir. Ashira stared at the Eye of Sadar and prayed that the Soul of Six give her guidance. Her father had left her to return to the battlefront. The Vargarians had been pressing at their borders and winning ground for the last ten years; yet she knew most of it had been lost in the last three.
Their mother had been their father’s constant support. Her death had shaken their very foundation and her father had never been the same. He was once a large man, easy to laugh, with jolly eyes and double chin. Now he was a hollow man, thinned and grief stricken. She had hoped it would fade with time but it had only gotten worse.
“Mother, give me guidance,” she whispered as she knelt with her hands in her lap.
She looked to the statue of the Eye of Sadar and glanced at the frescos on the walls. She could hear the silence of the night beyond the temple that was largely open except for this inner sanctum. Vargos and its Water King would not relent and her father was no longer the man he had been. She feared for her people and for her country.
Her father was not strong as he had been with their mother to rely on. Ashira had taken on many of their mother’s duties but her father rarely confided in her as he had done with their mother. He thought her too young to be burdened with such thoughts. He was blind to the truth, but not everyone was. Many came to her for help when their father was busy or away.
She did everything she could for her people and the country that she loved but they were losing. They had not as much land and though they had more money, most of their people were artisans, not soldiers. Before King Eliron began to press their borders back ten years prior they had been experiencing a silent war. Few died and neither tried to take the offensive outright. For many years it had been a mummer’s farce of a war. Now it was real war and her people were dying.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when her brother knelt beside her. She has been so consumed with her thoughts there could have been a war outside and she would not have noticed. She glared at him a moment but he ignored her as he said the standard prayer.
“May the Eye guide our souls on their rightful path, away from the Six Sins and towards the Six Sacred virtues. May they light our path in the darkest hour and fortify the goodness in our world.” He touched his cheek, below his right eye and Ashira did the same.
“What is it, Cain?” Ashira asked; he was not one to pray as she prayed.
“Why do you always think I wish something of you?” Cain said with his broad face and harsh features, handsome in his own way.
Ashira reached up and pushed the midnight blue veil from her face, letting it tumble behind her like a second layer of hair. She looked at her brother and smiled, a sibling’s smile, and knew she looked nothing like him. He looked like their mother’s uncles, like her eldest brother, Rodni. Only she and Tarly looked like their father. Her brother Tarly was a large man, with an equally large appetite. Yet, for all of their father’s girth, the girls in his family were voluptuous and beautiful. Her figure was a little thinner like her mother but face was just like her only paternal aunt.
“That is all brothers know how to do.” Ashira said sending him a sidewise glance.
“Though you are the People’s Princess, with your pious demeanor, I am not convinced,” Cain retorted, his broad face never flinched, “You are secretly wicked to accuse me without any foundation.”
Ashira rolled her blue green eyes, the trait that made her different than all of her siblings, and asked, “Then you don’t want something?”
“I do in fact,” his voice was light with amusement, “Though it is only to ask you your opinion.”
“My good opinion you mean,” she too was amused and did little to hide it in her private sanctuary.
He laughed; his voice as great as he was. Many were scared of her brother, for he was the best swordsman in all of Roanoak. He was a water dancer; his body and the sword he held were fluid and perfect. The first time she had been permitted to join the festivities and see her brother duel her breath had been stolen by it. She had begged her brother to teach her, and none of her brothers could refuse her, just as much as she could not refuse them whatever they asked of her.
“Father is looking to fortify our hold on Roanoak, he is worried and with good reason,” Cain’s amusement died as he turned to the reason he had sought her out, “He is discussing the option of a marriage alliance.”
“He wishes to end the war by marrying you to a stranger you mean,” Ashira countered before she stood, “Walk with me, my legs have grown restless from kneeling.”
“He wishes to send me to become King Eliron’s heir by wedding his younger sister,” Cain said his face unreadable to everyone but her.
“You do not wish to leave Roanoak,” Ashira could see it plain on his features.
He heaved a sigh, before he admitted, “I do not. Though it is not the girl or the fact I would be in enemy territory. It is that I will never be able to return home.”
“I would not wish this on anyone,” Ashira admitted and felt as though she had little to offer her brother, “Though I would prefer to lose you to marriage, instead of a death in battle.”
“I would manage better on the battlefront,” Cain said dryly, “I return there shortly, with Mohit in tow.”
“This shall be his first time,” Ashira pointed out before stopping to turn and add, “He is a soft hearted boy, who wishes to show he is as strong as his brothers. Look after him.”
“He should be wishing to be as strong of character as his sister,” Cain said, putting his hands on her shoulders and kissing her on the cheek.
“If you truly do not wish to marry King Eliron’s sister, tell father. Speak with Tarly, he was always more suited for ruling and you for the battlefront,” Ashira said patting him on his cheek.
“You know me too well,” Cain said releasing her shoulders, “I shall speak with Tarly, and should he concur I will speak with father.”
“I should speak with father,” Ashira disagreed as she fixed her veil, “Straight away before he sends his offer; it should be vague so that any of you can become Princess Lesbeth’s betrothed. Besides Rodni, of course, being the first born.”
“Ah yes the blessed first born.”
“Do not be like that, Rodni is a good man, and is trying to be a good heir,” Ashira smiled taking Cain’s arm in her own, “He carries a heavier burden than us.”
“You should be father’s heir,” Cain whispered, “None of us boys are a match for you.”
“That is not the way in the south. Here, men rule,” Ashira paused for effect before adding, “and women rule the men.”
Cain laughed that same laugh, unrestrained as he turned and took both of Ashira’s hands in her own, “You shall make a formidable wife to some powerful man one of these days; I do not doubt that.”
“There is no man who can match me, as father is finding out,” Ashira admitted, trying not to smile at the memory of her ill-begotten suitors.
“I have heard.” Cain’s laughter was greatest in her presence.
“I am hardly ten and seven. I am not ready to wed anyone,” Ashira commented, “Let alone a man of wealth who means to try and buy me.”
“You are an expensive purchase,” Cain shouldered her and she nearly tripped from the sudden nudge, “At lease father will not make you marry yet. Though I am sure there must be one who catches your eye.”
“What are you talking about?” Mohit asked, striding up to them.
“We were talking about husbands for Ashira and how she would eat them alive.” Cain said releasing her and ruffling Mohit’s hair.
“Do not do that, I am not a child!” Mohit objected though there was no heat in it.
“What do you want, Mohit?” Ashira asked smiling through her veil.
“I am to leave tomorrow and wish to pray for the sacred virtues to guide me.”
Ashira reached out a hand as she said, “Come I shall walk with you.”
Mohit rejected her hand and instead offered his arm to her. She laughed as she took it and let herself to led away, leaving Cain to himself. Ashira listened as Mohit spoke of warriors and their great names in history. She listened until they reached the temple, his face shinning with excitement.
“I shall pray as well I think,” Ashira said her face carefully serious.
“What shall you pray for?” Mohit said as he kept upon a pillow before the altar.
“That all you see of battle is the strategy tent.” Ashira said softly, her face set to a grin.
“I will return a man,” Mohit insisted, his lips set to a pout, “Perhaps you should instead pray for a husband.”
“A husband?” Ashira said with a laugh, “What would I want with a husband?”
“You must marry; it is for every woman to marry. You must marry because you will have beautiful babies that I will kiss their round cheeks and teach how to climb trees,” Mohit’s eyes sparkled, a true boy and no man, “You must find a handsome husband who will give you everything, especially beautiful babies.”
Ashira could not help but laugh before she spoke, “It is as though you speak of a dream. I doubt there is any such man for me.”
Want to keep reading? Chapter 2