The second sun had only just risen over the horizon, bringing luxurious heat into the courtyard of the Najurian family estate. The yards were a flurry of motion as last minute preparations for the noon wedding took place. Baubles glowed gently along lace lined paths, streamers of silver and gold were strung throughout the trees and hung, even, gracefully over the path by a simple enchantment.
Long tables rested in the courtyard itself, shaded by a large pavilion against the elements. They were adorned with gleaming silver platters and silverware, and in the center was a large sculpture of the couple to be, carved from ice so pure a blue in color it was as though from sapphire or some other precious gem.
Between the tables a path of rose petals of differing colors was strewn, leading to an alter of gilded gold upon which rested the holy hymns.
“My lady Leilani, it is time to wake!” A young woman called, pulling burgundy drapes aside to reveal the gorgeous morning light upon the darkened chamber.
“Mm…” Leilani rolled over and blinked as her honey eyes adjusted to the light, “Oh my, is it really today?” She sat up, excitement in her features, today she would be married, “Nysa, can it finally have arrived?”
“Yes, my lady.” Nysa giggled, rolling the comforter aside as Leilani leapt from her bed, “But you’ll be late if you don’t get into your bath!” She ushered the other woman into the room adjoining to hers.
The air was heavy with steam from the heat of the in ground tub in the center of the room, lavender and vanilla scented the air. Leilani quickly removed her nightgown and sank into the water with a relieved sigh.
Nysa poured water over her hair, scrubbing it as Leilani took a scrub brush to herself, soap suds caressed her flesh, melting the delectable scent of fresh flowers into her pores. It wasn’t long after that that Nysa pulled her from the tub, toweled her off, and forced her into a silken slip.
Leilani was then escorted back into her chambers where several other maids awaited her. She was helped into an ivory gown made from silk dupion with organza sleeves and layers over the skirt. The boned bodice used a unique and unusual shaping of points and scoops on the neckline and waistline. It bore a gold trimmed lace up feature on the front, as well as in the back. It was intricately decorated with hand painted and beaded flowers and leaves over the bodice and right thigh.
The full skirt used gathers, a net petticoat, and swathes of organza that created a full and indulgent look and feel. The organza was gathered with hand painted, beaded, and structured flowers. The train flowed three feet behind her. All in all the gown was delicate and breathtaking, it clung to her figure in all the right places. Leilani was a beautiful bride.
Her short hair was braided in the front and woven with silver lacing that draped across her left shoulder. A gardenia blossom was fastened to the shorter hair over her ear on the right side. Finally a golden crown with topaz gems set into it was adorned atop her head and an ivory veil fastened to it.
Red paint stained her lips and a topaz medallion that had belonged to her late mother rested at her throat. Her lips trembled, “I’m so nervous… Do you think he’ll like me?” She whispered.
Leilani was met by an awed chorus of, “Most assuredly, madam.” ’s.
“Come, my lady.” Nysa said once they’d finished with her, “It is time.”
Leilani nodded, speechless as Nysa clasped her hand and led her from her chambers. She was met in the hall by Lord Amuras, her father. He was a handsome man with graying hair and deep brown eyes. His eyes gleamed with pride as he took in her figure, “You look so much like your mother on our
wedding day.” His voice was thick- regret? She wasn’t sure why, but it sounded almost like an apology.
He offered his arm and she took it gladly. This was the closest that Leilani had been to her father in more years than she could remember. Together they descended the marble staircase amidst a mass of onlookers. Music played softly in the background, marking their entrance.
Through the main gate they went, followed by an entourage of family, friends, and prospective allies from other kingdoms. Down into the courtyard they went, where, in the center of the pavilion, her fiancé and the priest stood waiting for them. Everything was perfect as their vows were exchanged, and her father gave her away.
Leilani’s heart hammered as the sealing of their marriage neared, “Are you afraid, Princess?” His voice was soft, caring as he squeezed her hand reassuringly.
“No, Prince Rykear, I am far from it.” She breathed, he was definitely the one for her.
There was no doubt about his kindness and sincerity. There was no doubt in her mind that they’d been made for each other. No doubt- “You may kiss the bride.”
He eased back her veil, caressing her lips with calloused finger tips before gently pressing his to hers in a passionate kiss, they were wedded. His body jerked away from hers and suddenly he was falling away from her. Leilani caught him, “Rykear? Rykear?!” She called out his name, though he did not respond.
His beautiful gray eyes were open, glazed. The screams registered in her mind then- not hers. Her lips hadn’t even parted yet. Leilani looked up, the courtyard was in chaos. Flames erupted from the pavilion. Bodies lay everywhere as shadowed figures entered their midst. The grass was stained red.
“You.” Lord Amuras stood over her, his eyes blazing, “This is your fault.”
“W-what?” Her voice was low, rough. Leilani still couldn’t grasp what was going on.
“You are a curse to this family. How I let you grow up in my home… How I fed and cared for you… What was I thinking?” His features were angry, hateful.
“You don’t mean that!” Tears welled in her eyes, “Father, please!”
His lips parted as though to say something more, instead only a small grunt escaped. The shaft of an arrow protruded through his lips, “Bitch…” He managed as he fell.
“Father!” Crystaline tears traced down over her cheeks, “No!” Her voice echoed over the turmoil.
The next thing she knew was a blinding pain in the side of her head and then everything was dark.
~ * * ~
Her head and hands were trapped, it was her turn, finally. Leilani’s gaze was deadened, an expression she’d practiced for the past year. Her mind was numb, it was finally over. It was hard to believe, all of the heartache, the physical abuse… It had been a year and no salvation had come. Her eldest sister, Ririk, had refused to come to her family’s aid.
She’d watched the deaths of her father and siblings already. Beheaded first, then limbs were pulled from their torsos. The sight sickened her- how could they be so desecrated even in death? But it was her turn now. The rope was released. There was a blinding pain, and then darkness.
Leilani jerked up, a scream caught in her throat. Flames crackled about her, licking at the bodies beneath and around her. Her body ached as she dragged herself out of the inferno, collapsing on the hard-packed though cool earth. She was alone. She stood, swaying, it was late, the sun had already set. Disoriented she turned and raced into the trees, away from the fire, away from her home.
Her eyes snapped open and she sat up, breathing hard. Leilani had dreamt those dreams every night since she’d fled for her life. If they ever found out that she’d survived… there was no doubt in Leilani’s mind that they’d make damn sure that she didn’t escape again.
She crawled out from beneath the thin blanket that covered her bed. The sun was rising, she had work very soon. Her muscles ached from the previous evening’s toils, but she didn’t mind. Leilani ate a hunk of dried bread before dressing for the day with one last look at her single room hut she closed the door and headed off into the dawn’s light.
"Leah, you're late!" A boisterous woman in her early thirties stood in the doorway, her hands on her hips as she glared at the younger woman before her.
Leilani fidgeted where she stood, her eyes cast downward, "Madam Rourin, I apologize." She murmured, squeezing water out of her tunic, "A young boy took a tumble in the river as I was passing. I couldn't just continue on my way while he drowned."
The waterlogged appearance helped her story as the woman finally sighed and shook her head, "Try to be on time next time." She said at last, moving to allow Leilani to pass.
"Yes, ma'am." Leilani replied softly.
"Lyre!" She called for her eldest daughter who appeared at the top of the oak steps.
"Mother?" She eyed Leilani with disdain.
"Allow Leah to borrow something of yours to wear for today... She's soaking wet and liable to catch her death with the chill in the air today," she was a motherly woman and took it upon herself to care for Leilani whenever the girl was over.
"Mother, no!" Lyre gaped, "You can't-" It took a single glare from Rourin to shut her up quickly, "This way, Leah
." She muttered, stomping up the stairs.
"Ma'am, you don't have to do that!" Leilani protested.
"Dear girl, I'm a woman, not a slave driver." Rourin replied, her tone soft, caring, "I wouldn't force you to work in those clothes. Now go on, I'm sure Lyre has something she can let you wear today."
"T-thank you." Leilani ducked her head gratefully as she headed up to Lyre's room.
Lyre glared at her and threw a worn tunic and slacks her way, "Keep it." She stalked past Leilani, "I don't want it back."
Leilani followed the girl with her eyes until the door to the room slammed shut and she was left alone. Sighing, she changed. She descended the stairs, her dripping garments under her arm, and outside. Leilani strung them on the line and quickly went about her daily work.
She tidied the house and did the laundry, weeded the garden and picked what was ready. After she finished preparing supper and setting the table she pulled her still damp clothes from the line, and with a quick goodbye moved on. She entered the dress shop just down the lane and smiled at the owner, "Sorry, I know I'm cutting it close." She murmured, tucking her things away and seating herself at a loom.
"Leah... You need to get a serious attitude about work." The woman sat near her, features uncertain and awkward, "I can't have an employee who shows up for work late if at all... I need someone I can count on."
Leilani sighed and began to weave, "I know I haven't been very reliable of late..." She said at last, her fingers dancing over the loom, "I've been trying, I really have. It's been hard, it'll continue on so, but I swear to you that I'm serious about my work here."
"Leah... That'll be your last project." She stood at last, breathing a sigh of relief- it was as though she'd been working up the nerve to say it.
"W-what?" Leilani's hand slipped and caught metal- the scissors that had been laying beneath her. Red blossomed over her palm, it was a painful tear in the flesh.
"Are you alright?" The wince had been noticed.
Leilani tucked her hands in her lap nonchalantly, "I'm fine." She replied, her tone stoic, "Do you really intend... to fire me?"
"I'm sorry. Your work is good, fantastic even... but your mind isn't in it. Leah, I didn't want to do this... I really didn't. Please finish the dress and just go..." She turned and left Leilani in stunned silence.
The pain was gone. Leilani gazed at her hand, blood still covered her hand but the wound was gone. She sighed and squeezed her hand into a fist, a deep sorrow washing over her. If only she'd died with her family... She wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation of losing one job after another. If only she could bring herself to approach the palace and challenge the new inhabitants...
She didn't know what to do anymore. It took several long hours to finish the dress, it was beautiful, clearly her best work. Leilani was in tears when she left. It was dark by now and her stomach growled. Leilani had eaten the last of her food this morning, she had nothing more.
Sighing she clutched what meager money she had left to her chest and entered the bakery, "Miss, I'm closing up shop for the night." Devyd, the young owner said uncertainly.
"I won't be long..." Leilani replied softly, "I'd just like to buy three loaves of bread and a hunk of cheese."
"All I've got left from today is more than a day old, surely you'd rather-"
"No, please, it's fine." Leilani thought she must have sounded desperate because he gathered and boxed what she'd asked for before accepting her payment.
She thanked him and left, heading back to her small hut for the night. Upon opening the box she knew he'd added more than she'd asked or paid for. There were six loaves of bread, more than enough cheese, and several sweet cakes. With shaky hands she ate one of the cakes, relishing in the sweet flavor that touched her tongue. It had been too long since she'd tasted anything real...
The rumbling in her belly ceased and she moved over to the rusted wash basin. Her fingers dipped into the icy water and splashed it against her face, scrubbing the dirt and grime of the day away.
Thunder crackled outside, low. There was a storm moving in. Leilani bolted the door closed and quickly changed into her night clothes before curling up in her bed and falling into an exhausted sleep. Leilani dreamed.
Back to: The 12
And so it began