[Get ready for Nylian and Shaerra's story! An arranged marriage. A lie. A break of trust that must be built back. This story is coming soon!!]
I groaned, adjusting myself in the saddle. “So do I get to see what he looks like?”
“You could have asked,” Nafir said. He reached up, pulling the fabric off his nose and mouth to reveal thin lips and a scar running through the corner of his mouth. He seemed a bit rugged, but I didn’t see fur or a mouth full of sharp teeth. He was actually handsome in an unusual way. “We do not wear these as some ancient tradition. We wear them to protect from the dust.”
“Well… I just assumed…”
“Don’t assume anything anymore. You’re marrying my king. If you want something from him, request it. In fact, you may ride with him if you wish. You don’t need to ride three horse lengths behind. Nylian might already think you slow. He has high standards.”
I was a bit taken aback by that. In the Merillian, women taking any amount of control was considered disrespectful. Riding alongside a king, or any kind of noble, was against the rules. And to top it all off, I wasn’t noble. I was a servant. It all felt so wrong and yet there I was, many miles from home, staring at my future husband’s back with a million questions raddling in my skull.
“I’m not slow,” I said under my breath.
“If you—” Nafir began before I nudged Keepee in the ribs and urged her to trot ahead.
I passed two other riders on my way to Nylian’s side and I could feel them both staring when I cut in front of them. And when I caught up to the king, I suddenly went breathless. He turned his head toward me, those golden eyes glinting in the light. Maybe I just wasn’t good at following rules because I felt like I could adapt to speaking my mind pretty quickly if I gave it a try. So I did. I swallowed, took a breath, and straightened my riding posture.
“Nafir said I could ride with you,” I said, placing blame on another elf in case things went south.
“You can,” Nylian spoke.
I couldn’t deny that his voice had a handsome tone to it. It definitely wasn’t horrible to listen to. I would have expected guttural accents and growling or grunting if I was going off the stories I’d heard. In fact, I barely expected clothes.
“Well…” I hesitated. “Can I see your face? I mean, you’ve seen mine.” I laughed nervously. “I know I’m not as pretty as my handmaiden, but at least you know what I look like.”
I could see Nylian’s brows furrow a little and I wasn’t sure if that was because I was making a fool of myself or because he was just confused. Then he sighed, turning his gaze ahead again and scanning the endless sands. I thought that perhaps he’d turn down my offer and it irked me. Was I never to see him? Even in the marriage bed?
Oh, Gods. The marriage bed. I was going to have to lay with him. I gulped, looking at the horizon for a while in a daze. What if he was ugly and trading for a wife was his only option? In that case, should I have felt sorry for him? A thousand ideas rushed through my head and honestly, if he was scarred or deformed, I could live with that. Flawed people were some of the kindest and most considerate. I would know. I worked in a recovery center with my mother as a child and the people there, no matter their deformities, were always so pleased to have company. They felt safe behind closed doors and even safer with people who didn’t care what they looked like.
I decided the elven king didn’t have to show me his face. Besides, I was determined not even to get to the marriage bed. I’d figure something out before that point, so what did it matter?
“You know,” I said, turning to look at him. “If you don’t want to take off your…”
My words dissolved on my tongue when I saw Nylian pulling his scarf down and slipping his hood off his head. Silky, golden-brown hair blew in the wind, falling past his chest to his waist once it had all spilled from his hood. Thin braids woven close to the scalp pulled his hair back from his face on the sides, keeping it away from his pointed ears. Those same braids hung down in the back, intertwined with leather string, beads, and small, green feathers.
Various bone earrings pierced the length of his ears all the way to his cartilage. He also had two bone studs through one arching brow and thin, greenish tattoos glistened on his skin along his cheekbones and down the sides of his neck, decorating smooth, tanned skin. His nose was straight and his jaw strong and those lips. Gods, those lips. They were neither full nor thin but a perfect shape in between.
I was staring, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, when Nylian turned to look at me.
“Oh,” I said, blinking my way out of a stupor. “Ok, now I can see why you’re coming off a little grumpy.”
“Why’s that?” he said, his voice even more handsome with an equally handsome face to match.
“Because you got cheated. Tershien promised a daughter and he gave you his least beautiful one.” I laughed again, feeling incredibly out of my element.
And when I felt out of my element, I talked. A horrible defensive habit, I know.
“I would have preferred someone different, yes,” Nylian said, breaking my sparse confidence into pieces.
“I’d say sorry, but I didn’t exactly get a say in this.” I paused for a moment, eyeing him again. “So what did you want? Someone more beautiful? Perhaps a princess?”
“Then why are you marrying a human?”
“It was not my decision. I was advised to do so by a great number of people on my council. They thought it best to rekindle some kind of relationship with those of you trickling out into the wilds after two hundred years. Marriage or slaughter. Those were my options.”
“So, this is your attempt at building some relationship with humans?”
He sighed, clearly unenthused. “Yes. That, and my people have expected a continuation of my bloodline for some time.”
“So, I’m your ticket to making your people happy and popping out babies,” I said bitterly, taking a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Don’t worry. I heard women are really good at that. Human ones, especially.”
“Is it not a human woman’s goal in life? To marry and have children?”
“Perhaps,” I said. “For most women, marrying is what they want. Be it for security or something else. We’re not provided many options.”
“But it is not what you want.”
It wasn’t a question.
I hesitated a moment, glancing over at him. I was surprised by the lack of judgment in his gaze. That, and the little green freckles in his irises that set him apart from the other elves with similar colored eyes.
“I had hoped that I would have time to find excitement in this life before marriage and children tied me to one place.”
Not only was I not what Nylian wanted, but I wasn’t even the woman he was promised. So he didn’t want me. I didn’t want him. And yet we were getting married. It made no sense and it was wrong. I wanted to blurt it out right there and then, but still, something was keeping those words prisoner inside me. I wasn’t sure what Nylian’s reaction would be. Would he kill me and return to kill Tershien? Would he enslave me? And what would happen to my mother if Tershien found out I’d ruined is plans?
At the very least, if I married him, perhaps I’d have some kind of standing. Then I could send for my mother. Maybe we could have a good life. A free life where we didn’t have to work for lousy dukes. Though I had no idea how elven wives were treated or if being a human would afford me the same treatment. I knew nothing at all.
Which made it all that much worse.
Read the rest of the series HERE!