Azel listened to her mother humming behind her as her skilled fingers braided her hair, as was customary for a bride about to be married to her betrothed. Her sisters were part of the tradition as well, painting the circles on her skin that would bind her to her future husband. They would also paint the virgin’s mark upon her head, which her husband would wipe clean when they consummated the marriage for three days. Azel’s eyes turned downcast at the thought; she had been free for so long that if it were not the duty as the youngest of her household to leave, she would never do so.
Being the Liege’s daughter made her a princess by birth and she would be the last of her sisters to marry. Unlike them, however, she would be going far from her home to fulfill her duty. In such an isolated community she felt nothing like a princess, not like those living within the two largest providences. She had grown up like any other girl of the village, trained for marriage and child rearing. Unlike her peers, however, she would be forced to leave.
She tightened her jaw and smiled down at her sisters as they knelt around her focusing on the circles they were making on her arms, legs, and feet. It was hard to remain unmoved when she must leave all she knew behind. She would miss her dearest sisters terribly and regretted that she would miss her nieces growing up. One sister was expecting her first child and the other already had three children. Her twin brother, Titus, would be escorting her to her betrothed, acting as a go-between for her aging father.
She smiled at the thought of her brother, weak and slightly skinny, acting in her powerful father’s stead. Though born seconds apart, they were nothing alike, and he was much weaker. It was almost laughable that he should stand in. The Bloodlines had not seen fit to grant him an ability, which happened from time to time to the family’s ire. Unlike her siblings, she was unique, since her power descended from a dying Bloodline that could manipulate flesh and bend them to her will.
Her oldest sister, Zena, was able to create and then pull the moisture from the air; in essence, she could create water from nothing. In their home, surrounded on all sides by sand, it was the reason she had been married to the richest man in the area. Their three children were too young to display their powers but Azel imagined her daughters would become as lovely and powerful as their mother.
She turned her eyes on her sister Omba, whose slightly larger figure hid the child growing within her. She was much like their large-boned father. Her face was not quite as lovely as Zena’s but she was able to weakly manipulate the wind. She had married the captain of the guard, and though Azel knew that Omba was not very happy, she was comfortable. He would not allow the fate that befell his sisters to befall his daughters as well.
Azel wondered if she would be more like her sister Zena or Omba. Would she be happy in her marriage or hardly tolerate it? Though the women of her Bloodline were powerful, they were also vulnerable. They lacked any true physical strength and were constantly being stolen. That was exactly why her father had married her sisters to rich and powerful men within the safety of the city walls.
Had it not been for the extraordinary price paid for her hand, Azel imagined that she would have become much like her sisters. One of their airships would be taking her to the advisor of a city that was well known as a trading hub. Her father had given her picture to a man who had expressed an interest in her, who had passed it to the advisor himself.
Apparently he found her very attractive, and desired to have her as his wife. Only when he learned of her status as a princess and her descent from the Bloodline did he pay the exorbitant amount for her hand. It would pay for her people’s food and livelihood for years to come.
Zena, the one with the better artistic ability, came to her forehead and began to give her the virgin marking as Omba and her mother began talking about Omba’s child-to-be, and the possible gender. Azel had the ability to manipulate the flesh of all living things but she had not made a habit of sharing the strength of her ability. She could both heal and destroy, but she knew that her sister carried a young girl within her womb.
Omba wished only for a male, so that her husband had someone in which to teach. Once she knew she was without a male heir, Omba would have to lie with her husband again. She brought her eyes up to look at Zena as her face scrunched up in concentration, but even Azel could recognize the happiness just under the surface of her face. She loved the man she had been arranged with. He made her happy and she was content with that knowledge.
“Done,” Zena said, leaning over to kiss her on both cheeks. “Mama, the final veil is needed.”
“Here,” her mother said, with a smile, coming forward to place the long veil with beads along the edge. “Newly stitched and engraved with good fortune.”
“I am blessed,” Azel responded as they placed the veil around her head and let it fall heavy with jewels and beads.
“Your father has given me leave to come with you, since your sisters are unable to leave their husbands,” her mother said. “You are my last and I cannot let you face this strange land alone.”
Azel reached her hand out and took her mother’s hand in her own, “I fear less with you beside me.”
There came a knock on the door and Azel stiffened as her mother allowed them entry. A messenger came through the door after the guard posted outside opened it. He bowed to them and addressed them as ‘your majesties’.
“What message do you bring?” Her mother asked. Her face had been softened into a loving mother while preparing Azel, but now her expression was back to the stoic Queen of Undel.
“The airship that is to take Princess Azel has arrived,” he informed them. He was out of breath and sweat stains dampened the top of his shoulders, although his clothing was already lighter to anticipate the heat of summer.
Azel rose gracefully, her face set. “I am ready.”
Her mother turned and walked with her. Azel was determined not to turn back, for fear if she saw the worried faces of her sisters she would not be able to remain calm. She did not know what her betrothed would be like and they had every right to worry but she didn’t need their expressions to remind her. They walked down one of the great halls of the sun palace by the royal chambers, closest to the loading area for the private airships. The royal family’s personal bodyguards stood nearby, and bowed as they walked past.
The hanging beads and metal circlets that were sewn into her dress made a light tinkling sound as she walked. The red layers of her wedding dress were light and were drawn backward with every step she took. The large earrings chimed as a breeze brushed against her; they did so again and louder as she drew closer to the open airship loading area. The light wind off of the sand pressed into the face of the plateau where the entire city of Undel rested.
She walked out to the loading area, where her father and brother were waiting for them in front of the airship. Her father was a serious man and held the power he had with a firm fist, but he loved his children and relied on the ability of his queen. He bent and kissed her upon her left cheek when she approached him, “My lovely daughter.”
“I will do you proud Papa,” she said. Her smile wasn’t genuine but it had the desired effect, “Take care of our people.”
“Be blessed my child.” He said as her brother fell into step beside her.
They walked up the loading area of the metal ship; the great turbines powered by the sun’s overpowering glare began to spin. The ship’s many wings were covered with solar panels that were able to circle round and round before lifting the great weight of the ship from the ground. The loading area closed behind them as they entered the main area of the ship where the captain’s and guests’ quarters were held. Stairs lead down led to the storage and crew’s quarters, while another set of stairs lead up to the top of the ship’s deck.
She glanced through the captain’s open door. It was empty and she could see the entire layout of her home through the massive window at the back. Azel continued to stare as her family spoke about where her mother and brother would settle. As the ship began to turn and lift off the ground, she realized it might be the last time she was ever able to look upon her home. She glanced over as it fell out of sight.
Azel turned to the stairs and walked up them, not pausing when she heard her mother call her name. She walked straight over to the large windows that looked out every which way in order to see Undel. Her mother came up silently beside her and they watched together as their home slowly faded away into the horizon.
In a day she would meet her betrothed upon the Alter of Binding, and she would never hope to see her beloved home again. She glanced at her mother, who had come from a neighboring city in order to marry the Liege of Undel. Did she stand upon her airship and look out upon her own city, never to gaze upon it again?
Her mother caught her eye. “You are the most powerful of my children, and though your father would not admit it, you are his favorite,” she said seriously. “I know you love your home, Azel, but with your lovely face and the power over every living being, you were always meant for greater things.”
“I have hardly used this gift,” Azel responded with a sigh. Her heart felt heavy. “Only to heal. What if they wish me to use it for something far worse?”
“They are a peaceful family. You do not need to worry about being used improperly,” her mother reassured her. “If it does come to such terms, write to your father. He will not stand for the misuse of you.”
“I am blessed,” Azel said, lowering her head and eyes, “I will do well to remember your words.”
Her mother placed her hands on Azel’s shoulders and gently turned her away from the sea of sand. “Let us go,” she said. “You should not be seen before your wedding day. You are too strong a temptation.”