House of Blood
By Akira Eliza
The last rays of sun burned crimson and orange like heatless fires catching the surface of the ground a blaze. I’ve always loved twilight. That time were stars wink into existence one by one. A blanket of diamonds set in black velvet. Night always came quickly to my court.
The Sisters, our pale lavender twin moons, were just visible above the trees as I peered from my balcony. Several stories high and facing the main courtyard, with its multiple fountains and flower beds of nightshade, my room had the best view in the castle. It overlooked the Wyld Wood as well as the waterfall that showered this side of keep in a constant light mist.
“Anna.” My mother’s gentle voice from behind me pulled my attention from the sky. Her thin frame was draped in folds of midnight as her gown pooled like shadows beneath her. Pale gemstones encircled her head, faintly glowing against her raven hair. “Your father has called for you.”
I let out a sigh and hopped down from my perch on the stone balcony. “I didn’t mean to set the rug on fire, I swear.”
She chuckled but shook her head. “No, court business I’m afraid.”
Queen Iona, my mother, still stood near the door, delicate hands clasping one another. Her normally shimmering violet eyes seemed dull and even a bit swollen, but the tilt of her head kept most of her face in shadow. I was about to ask her if something was wrong when shouts from below drew my attention back over the ledge.
A trumpet sounded. I scanned the Wyldwood that surrounded the entire court and watched as five white horses emerged. Following them was a dazzling silver stag, antlers reaching high from its head and twisting back down toward its neck. As the riders made their way up the winding path and approached the front gate another trumpet sounded. The horses parted to allow the final rider a clear route to the front. A tall, silver haired man sat atop the great stag. His soft blue cloak waved behind him in a light breeze.
“You should hurry along Anna,” my mother said, now beside me and peering down at our guests.
I looked up into eyes I knew as well as my own and frowned. “Are you alright?”
She smiled slightly but still looked sad. “Quickly now. Your father will want to speak with you before he’s called upon.”
I hesitated, but my mother’s gentle shooing had me hurrying from the balcony and down the long hallway to the Great Room. Tyrn, King of the Night Court, who also happened to be my father, sat atop his obsidian throne as I entered.
Dark velvet curtains, usually opened wide, were drawn tight, concealing the floor-to-ceiling windows behind them. Fires roared around the hall, their light straining to penetrate the deep shadows in the corners. Ivory pillars stood on either side of the ebony carpet that ran down the center of the room. Tucked between the pillars stood my father’s Elite, soldiers trained for stealth and deadly precision with both bow and dagger.
“Father,” I said as I approached the throne.
He gestured to his left. The smaller chair, cut from the same obsidian glimmered in the firelight. I knew, before sitting down, how hard the stone was even with the thick cushion for padding.
“You’re late,” he remarked without looking at me. “We’ve much to discuss.”
Before I could ask why he’d called for me, the main door swung open and my father’s captain of the guard strode forward, flanked by the silver haired male and two, of what looked to be, his personal guard.
“Prince Lyr of the Winter Court sir,” Captain Erin announced with a bow.
My father waived a hand for the prince to step forward.
“Your majesty, I’ve come to request a private audience.” The prince gave a low bow, long hair slipping over his shoulder like a veil of water before he straightened. He gave me a brief dismissive glance before icy blue eyes settled on my father. The slight hadn’t gone unnoticed.
My father leaned forward in his chair, making a show of sizing up the male before him. To his credit, the prince met the King’s gaze and held it. Tension grew, power rippling through the room as the two males flooded the air with testosterone. A tactic I was far too accustomed too from my time in court. Suddenly, my father let out a deep laugh.
“Very well prince. However, I will warn you. This once. We do not play trivial games in my court. I will grant your private audience, but my heir will remain present.” My father gestured to me. “Princess Annwyn will accompany you to my study. We can discuss your visit there.”
The dismissal was clear, so I rose to meet the prince. His eyes grew hard as they traveled down my body. Although I had attended court with my father for the last fifty years or so, it was uncommon to host royalty from another. Like any other Kingdom, squabbles arose almost daily, and our job was to settle those matters. For the Winter Court to travel here, something beyond territory disputes was going on.
I was also acutely aware that my attire, while accepted within our own castle, was far from proper. I’d always loved human’s sense of fashion, but my jeans and sweatshirt were clearly out of place here. By the time the prince’s eyes met mine, I had to fight the urge to squirm.
Squaring my shoulders I said, “this way.”
I guided Prince Lyr in silence to a back exit. We passed by dozens of rooms before reaching a heavy oak door with a thick bronze handle. The two Winter Court guards took up spots on either side. Milky beams from The Sisters spilled across deep red carpet as I pushed the door open. Quickly, I moved to light the fireplace and sconces along the wall.
“My father will be here shortly,” I told him.
He simply inclined his head.
“I’m sure whatever you have traveled here for, we will be able to assist with,” I said, trying to fill the silence as we waited.
He lifted the corner of his lip. “I’m sure you have no place to give such promises.”
I brushed my hands on a towel. “I may not know the nature of your visit, but I have held court with my father plenty of times and we are always able to assist.”
“Within your own court. I have never seen you attend any other.” Prince Lyr peered down his nose at me. “Perhaps you should strive to attend more grown-up matters before offering inexperienced council, princess.”
“For your information –
My father stepped into the room at that moment, his dark power filling the small space, effectively cutting off our conversation.
“Sit,” he commanded as he strode to his desk.
Both Prince Lyr and I did as was instructed. I kept my fists clenched in my lap as I focused on my King. I watched as my father read a scroll, eyes scanning the paper quickly before crushing it in his fist.
“You know this for certain?” My father said to the prince.
“I was aware of Queen Irida’s passing however, this matter will require me to call the Council.” My father’s dark eyes moved to me. “You will travel to the Winter Court in my place.”
“What?” Prince Lyr and I said simultaneously.
My father was gone, King of the Night Court now sat before me. “That is my order. You, prince, request support and I am offering it. As High King I will not be able to travel until the Council has met, at which time I will replace my daughter at court.”
There was no room for arguments or negotiations. It had been decided whether I liked it or not.
“I was unaware news of the Queens death was public knowledge,” Prince Lyr said with a cold steadiness I hadn’t expected from him.
“Your Queen was my Queen’s sister. Her death was known,” was all my father offered.
My mother had been crying. When had the Queen passed? Why hadn’t she told me. I wanted to go to her, but our business here wasn’t finished yet.
“When do I leave?” I asked my father.
“At first light. This matter will take me some time to present to the Counsel, until then you will reside at the Winter Court in my place.” To the prince he added, “I expect every curtesy extended to my daughter that would be shown to me until such time.”
“Find your mother,” my father said to me. “Inform her of our plans. I have a few more matters to discuss with the new King of the Winter Court.”
It took me a moment to rise, halted by the sudden information. I was aware the title passed immediately to the heir when the King or Queen died but I hadn’t known this prince had been heir. To be announced as prince and not King was unusual and made me wonder why he felt the need to keep his title a secret. I thought about asking but decided against it and hurried from the room with a quick bow to both Kings.
I walked slowly through the castle, my thoughts racing around my head. The death of my mother’s sister, the arrival of the new King of the Winter Court and the secrets he was undoubtably holding, leaving my own court for the first time all rivaled for space in my brain. It had been a long time, before I was ever born, that a royal had died. Back in the time of the Great War, when only two courts existed, the Light and the Dark, many deaths occurred on both sides. My father had fought in and won that war, granting him the title High King. At that time, the Light and Dark Courts were split in half. The Winter and Night Court came from the Dark and the Summer and Autumn court came from the Light. The Counsel was comprised from each court, with one member from each. My father, the High King, was the final say on all matters. They only convened in times of war or when one of the few rules we had were broken.
The door to my mother’s room, adorned with ravens and crescent moons was open when I approached. I found her seated before a tall mirror, her long black hair swept to the side as she brushed a pearl handled comb through it.
“Mother, I am so sorry, I just heard,” I said as entered her chamber.
Queen Iona turned to face me, her eyes filling with tears as she patted a chair next to her. “Come sit my sweet girl, I would talk to you.”
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
Join the conversation